What do the Super Eagles stand to gain in a 48-team World Cup?
The news of the expansion of the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams from the current 32 has been greeted with mixed reactions the world over.
The new development will however, not happen until the year 2026, which is some nine years from now.Read also: Oshoala set to dump Arsenal & join Mikel in China
The expansion also comes with confederations getting addition slots, with CAF getting the biggest single share, rising from five to nine guaranteed slots at the World Cup from 2026. UEFA still has the highest number of slots, but the fewest number of additions in the new format.
They will now have 16 guaranteed slots, with just two added to the 14 they currently enjoy, while other confederations like Oceania, Asia, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL also enjoying additional slots with 1.5, 8.5, and 6.5 slots respectively – the fractions representing playoff matches.
But looking from a purely African point of view, what does this change mean for the continent and Nigeria in particular?
According to a statement released on the FIFA website announcing the development, the decision to expand the number of participating teams was ‘taken following a thorough analysis, based on a report that included four different format options.
’The study took into account such factors as sporting balance, competition quality, impact on football development, infrastructure, projections on financial position and the consequences for event delivery.’
As it currently stands for the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, and same will apply for the qualifiers for the 2022 edition, CAF has five groups of four teams each, with the top teams automatically qualifying for the World Cup.
Nigeria is housed in group B in the race for Russia 2018, along with other continental powerhouses; Cameroon and Algeria as well as Zambia.
But for the 2026 qualifiers, CAF is most likely going to adopt a larger grouping system, that will have as many as nine groups with the best team from each group proceeding to the World Cup. What this format simply means is that most of the top ranked teams will be exempted from the preliminary round of qualifiers, which means fewer games and a higher number of teams at the group qualifying stage.
Also, it means the top nine teams in the last FIFA rankings before the draws will be seeded, reducing the chances of countries like Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria being in the same group, which in turn increases the chances of the so-called bigger countries to qualify, including Nigeria’s.
On the other hand CAF could choose to adopt a slightly more complex format, which will maintain the same five qualifying groups. But in this scenario, not only the top teams from each group will qualify, but also the second best teams from four of the five groups. The complexity of this format is that where two or more teams have identical records from their groups, they would have to go through playoffs.
While this format will maintain the probability of countries like Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria being in the same group, it also means that instead of one, two of them would have the chance of progressing to the World Cup proper.
But whatever format CAF employs for the 2026 qualifiers, with the expansion to 48 teams, it means teams like the Super Eagles now have a higher chance of qualifying for the World Cup whether or not they play against the best teams on the continent.