UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin will officially request at least 16 spots for European teams in FIFA’s new expanded World Cup format expected to kickoff in the 2026 tournament. But what does it mean for other continents in terms of fairness?
Europe already commands a lion share of the current available 32 spots with 13 places (plus 1 additional slot going to Russia as hosts of the 2018 competition), while the other continents share the remaining 19 (but only 18 in 2018) places.
UEFA received 13 slots in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They have had as many as 15 slots since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998. European countries have won four of the five 32-team World Cups since 1998, with the 2002 Brazil team being the only non-European champion.
“We think it’s realistic to ask for 16 slots plus another condition that each European is in a different group,”said UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.
The number of tournament matches will rise to 80, from 64, but the eventual winners will still play only seven games.
The tournament will be completed within 32 days – a measure to appease powerful European clubs, who objected to reform because of a crowded international schedule.
But UEFA want more. It also wants assurance that there would be only one European team per group in the first round, enhancing the chances of the continent’s teams making it through to the knockout stages. It’s football politics at the sharp end.
Fifa says the final decision on how the extra 16 slots for 2026 will be divided up will be made later this year. But it’s an early test to see if Europe will be allowed to have its way once again to the detriment of other continents.
For a bit of context, with 16 teams, UEFA will already have enough teams to hold a mini-World Cup of its own. After all, the African Nations Cup is made up of 16 teams and UEFA only switched to a 24-team championship in Euro 2016.
One of the arguments of having an expanded World Cup is to give other continents the chance to be able to have more representatives so they can at least have a better chance of winning the trophy, something that has been the exclusive reserve of Europeans and South American teams.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said the World Cup has to be “more inclusive”, adding: “Football is more than just Europe and South America, football is global.”
It is only hope that this is true and not just mere talks.