Tuesday, 10 January 2017

No easy matches in international football

"There are no easy matches in international football these days". That's the cliché that's often trotted out before World Cup / Euro qualifiers, the reasoning being that that aren't any minnows any more, and that any nation, on it's day, is capable of beating one of the big boys.

If that's the case then, doesn't that justify FIFA's decision today to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams. More good sides will get the chance to play in the finals, and we will be treated to more quality football?

Of course, the real rationale is surely the estimated extra £521 million that the expansion will generate, but are we just being resistant to change by criticising the move? The competition began in 1930 with, bizarrely, 13 teams, and as recently as 1978 there were just 16 nations competing in the finals. In 1982 that increased to 24 and in 1998 to 32, no doubt each time being slammed as watering-down the quality of the tournament.

It's good that FIFA didn't go with some of the other proposals on the table, such as qualifying rounds before the "proper" tournament began, but this option doesn't actually look too bad. There will be no extra games for teams, and a cap on the maximum length of the competition will prevent it from dragging on for too long. And it might mean that some of the world's top players will grace the ultimate stage rather than missing out, as Gareth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic did in 2014.

It might make it easier for the likes of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to qualify, but one question still remains - will England do any better once the tournament begins?