FIFA just announced, how many slots each Confederation will probably get, when the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams. This will be in effect for the 2026 World Cup, that’s a done deal. And this is how a tournament like that might look.
Europe: 16 teams instead of 13
Let’s look at the Qualifiers for EURO 2016, since that’s the most recent campaign. Along with hosts France there have been nine group winners:
Germany, Spain, England, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland
So there would be six places left. The six runners-up with the best records were:
Poland, Croatia, Wales, Slovakia, Switzerland and Russia
Teams like Tukey, Romania, Hungary, Sweden an Albania would miss out – as would the Netherlands, of course.
South America: 6 teams instead of 4.5
In the current World Cup campaign, 14 of the 18 matchdays in South America are already played, so the Standings do represent the stength of each team quite well. The six teams that would qualify directly were:
Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador
Africa: 9 teams instead of 5
Africa’s contingent will be nearly doubled. Looking at the Qualifiers for the most recent Africa Cup of Nations proves to be useless, however, for this article: There have been 13 groups. So let’s look at the Road to Brazil 2014. Then, there were ten groups with the winners entering a play-off round. The group winner with the weakest record was Burkina Faso, the other nine group winners were:
Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tunisia and Ethiopia
CONCACAF: 6 teams instead of 3.5
That’s easy: Just take the six participants of the current Hex. These are:
Mexico, U.S.A., Costa Rica, Honduras, Trinidad and Panama
Asia: 8 teams insted of 4.5
None of the four Asian teams at the 2014 World Cup even managed to win a single game, but still there will be the double amount of teams under the new format. The leading four teams from each of the current Final Round groups for the 2018 World Cup are:
Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates and Syria
Both China and Qatar would miss out, if Standings were as the are right now.
Oceania: 1 team instead of 0.5
Yeah, well. It’ll be New Zealand, barring some exceptional embaressment. They managed to run into those, in recent history, though.
Repechage: 2 teams
FIFA said that there would be a 6-team-tournament in the World Cup’s host country. Each of the Continent’s best team that did not qualify directly will be there. Except, of course, the one from bad bad Europe, of course. Those would be:
Burkina Faso, Paraguay, China, Guatemala and Papua New Guinea.
The sixth participant will be another country from the World Cup host’s Confederation. In case the World Cup will be in Europe, there would indeed be one European team in there.
At the draw (imagine that humongous draw!) they will keep teams from the same Confederations apart – another reason for the convenient ammount of 16 European teams. That might look something like this:
After quite the monstrous Group Stage with 48 games in 12 days, there will be the equally monstrous knock-out rounds. These will kick off with the round of 32 (so two of the three teams in each group will advance). Let’s imagine a Group Stage without major surprises. So the first (and second) knock-out Round might look like this:
As you can see, from the Round of 16, everything will be like before. There will be some huge match-ups that might just as well be a semifinal. And there will be those where everyone will ask: Do we really need one of THOSE two in the Quarterfinals?
Whether we like it or not, a World Cup like that will come. It’ll be another nine years until then, but this is what it’ll look like.