32 is more than enough, Gianni


Finally some good news: FIFA has abandoned its grandiose plan to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Gianni Infantino's dream of 48 finalists and additional host nations was one fantasy too far.

An idea long poo-pooed by the wider game has finally bitten the dust and one can only wonder how it managed to get this far, two weeks from being debated by FIFA at their annual congress.

The only realistic joint hosts, the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, had cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017 and relations remain sour.

32 is more than enough, Gianni

This year's ill-tempered Asian Cup semi-final between the two nations saw booing of Qatar's anthem and UAE fans hurling missiles onto the pitch: The idea of joint hosting was therefore a non-starter even if the planning and logistics could have been managed.

Neighbours Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have also cut diplomatic ties. The idea of thousands of boozed-up party-loving football fans in Saudi is too surreal to even imagine, although some might say the same about Qatar. We will see.

The 2022 tournament was a brave or controversial enough concept anyway with the host being an Islamic country with negligible football heritage nor existing stadia and the tournament happening in the winter to boot, squeezed in around the Christmas period with domestic seasons duly disrupted.

Against this backdrop, the idea of compounding the risk by adding another 16 teams was borderline barmy.

48 nations will be there in the USA, Mexico and Canada in 2026 but there is plenty of time to plan for that tournament and those nations combined have more than enough capacity for such a huge event.

But what about the football? Given the standard of play across the World Cup is now inferior to the UEFA Champions League, it is impossible to see how an extra 16 qualifiers could improve it. The jewel in the crown of the sport runs the risk of becoming an overbloated jamboree satisfying nobody except the multinational sponsors.

Seven years from now there will undoubtedly be more also-rans and meaningless matches, cannon-fodder for the bigger nations.

The increase to almost 50 finalists means future World Cup hosting is almost certain to be continent-wide as well rather than having a single host nation.

I would love to see England host the World Cup again but could we really accommodate 48 finalists, fans, media et al? The accompanying cultural marker of a single host nation will be diluted and that is a shame, but football flies the flag for rampant liberal economics, where too much is never enough.

In throwing in the towel Infantino accepted the inevitable but has still sullied his initial reputation as a sane pair of hands after the myriad excesses of Sepp Blatter's regime.

This was a hair-brained scheme straight out of the Blatter or Michel Platini unicorn playbook. Dangling extra World Cup places in the faces of minor football nations in exchange for their loyalty was the trick invented by Joao Havelange and perfected by Blatter but it led the game's governing body into an Augean stables.

Barely a few days after Manchester City completed their clean sweep of England's domestic cups and devalued the F.A. Cup beyond all previous blows by massacring Watford 6-0 in what resembled a Harlem Globetrotters show, FIFA was mercifully reined in from allowing another 'greed is good' change to the game.
32 is more than enough, Gianni.

But let us not be fooled: The victory is only temporary and Infantino is definitely not the white knight we had hoped for.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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