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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


World Cup Finals 2014 – FIFA Fair or FIFA Foul

Written by on March 11, 2011 | 6 Comments »
Posted in General, World Cups

Concacaf General Secretary Chuck Blazer is unhappy with the allocation of spots for the 2014 World Cup Finals. Or at least we are supposed to believe he is. So murky are the politics of FIFA things are often not as they seem and it is difficult to know when the consuming public are being played like a cheap guitar.

The spots allocated for 2014 are as follows:

Asia 4.5

Africa 5

Oceania 0.5


CONMEBOL 5.5 (including Brazil as host)


But once we get past the rhetoric the assessment of whether or not the allocation of spots is “fair” is reasonably straight forward.

The format for the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico reverted to a multiple knock stage after the an initial group stage so that seems to be a logical starting point.

Here are a series of summaries of qualification by Federation at various stages since 1986.

WCF Qualifiers (inc. Hosts)
FEDERATION 1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010 TOTAL %
Africa 2 2 3 5 5 5 6 28 14%
Asia 2 2 2 4 4 4 4 22 11%
CONCACAF 2 2 2 3 3 4 3 19 10%
Oceania 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 1%
CONMEBOL 4 4 4 5 5 4 5 31 16%
UEFA 14 14 13 15 15 14 13 98 49%
24 24 24 32 32 32 32 200 100%

UEFA was the main benefactor prior to 1998 when the Finals increased from 24 teams to 32 teams. Up to that point UEFA had received over 50% of the allotted spots. Although UEFA did receive more slots in 1998 the increase in % terms was minimal compared to the others and in particular Africa, Asia, and Concacaf.

A reasonable measure of the overall strength of each Federation would appear to be the % of the entrants from each that made it to the knock out stage.

The Oceania numbers need to be placed in context of limited numbers and the subsequent move by Australia from that Federation to Asia after the 2006 World Cup Finals.

Considering the last 16 here is the make up by World Cup Finals and by number of countries by Federation followed by another chart showing the % of qualifiers against each World Cup Finals number of entrants.

Last 16 #
1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010 TOTAL
Africa 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 7
Asia 0 0 1 0 2 0 2 5
CONCACAF 1 1 2 1 2 1 2 10
Oceania 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
CONMEBOL 4 4 2 4 2 3 5 24
UEFA 10 10 10 10 9 10 6 65
TOTALS 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 112

By percentage

Last 16 %
1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010 Average
Africa 50% 50% 33% 20% 20% 20% 17% 30%
Asia 0% 0% 50% 0% 50% 0% 50% 21%
CONCACAF 50% 50% 100% 33% 67% 25% 67% 56%
Oceania 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100% 0% 14%
CONMEBOL 100% 100% 50% 80% 40% 75% 100% 78%
UEFA 71% 71% 77% 67% 60% 71% 46% 66%

Based on the tables detailed above Blazer would appear to have a case that CONCACAF has been short-changed but not at the expense of CONMEBOL but rather by Africa and particularly Asia. But just to add a wrinkle to such a straight forward assessment it is worth looking at how Federations fair when they receive additional spots.

To take the data one step further here is the same information but narrowed to the last eight rather than 16.

Last 8
1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010 TOTAL
Africa 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 3
Asia 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
CONCACAF 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2
Oceania 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
CONMEBOL 2 1 1 1 1 2 4 12
UEFA 5 6 7 7 4 6 3 38
TOTALS 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 56

By percentage

Last 8 %
1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010 Average
Africa 0% 50% 0% 0% 20% 0% 17% 12%
Asia 0% 0% 0% 0% 25% 0% 0% 4%
CONCACAF 50% 0% 0% 0% 33% 0% 0% 12%
Oceania 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
CONMEBOL 50% 25% 25% 20% 20% 50% 80% 39%
UEFA 36% 43% 54% 47% 27% 43% 23% 39%

By narrowing the stats to the last 8 the Africa and CONCACAF numbers align.

So did FIFA get the 2014 allocation correct or did they screw it up? If you are a promoter of the concept that the World Cup Finals should only be the best 32 teams in the world then going hand-in-hand is that UEFA and CONMEBOL should actually receive more spots rather than less.

Thoughts on these statistics?

6 responses to “World Cup Finals 2014 – FIFA Fair or FIFA Foul”

  1. Gus Keri says:


    With all due respect, I wouldn’t use the last 8 statistics to differetiate between Africa, Asia or CONCACAF.
    The total numbers are so small, they would make the margin of error very high.

    The last 16 stats clearly indicate that CONCACAF is superior to both Africa and Asia but the result is skewed by the fact that all of these results came from two countries, Mexico and the USA, except in 1990 where Costa Rica made it through.

    So, probably, FIFA is not too keen on giving more places to CONCACAF where only two countries are successful.

    And if you consider economy, this area doesn’t provide much, outside the top two. FIFA would rather see the much inferior teams of India and China, with their billions of people, than see El-Salvador or Panama.

    But to give South America a possible 6 places out of total 10 countries is not fair at all, when FIFA is trying to promote inclusiveness over exclusiveness.

  2. Esjay says:

    Interesting assesment. It makes me wonder if FIFA shouldn’t be looking for a new rubric altogether.
    It seems obvious that UEFA is a dominant region, but I’m not sure that 13 teams is appropriate. Id be curious to see how the “2nd tier” UEFA teams have faired at the WC. I’m guessing that Slovania et al are pretty mediocre in terms of their progress to the round of 16. There are probably legitamatly 10 UEFA teams at any given WC that are really contenders, but the other teams from UEFA aren’t signifigantly more competative than the 5th place team from Asia or the 4th place team from CONCACAF.

    All that being said, more power to CONMEBOL. They provided some of the best soccer at the last WC, and I’d love to see more.

  3. John Bladen says:

    Very interesting figures, Bobby.

    It is a bit of a surprise that Asia has been so weak. Given that Australia has already moved, as you say, I wonder if a full amalgamation of Asia/Oceania might be on the cards at some point in the (no doubt distant) future?

    Perhaps it’s a bit simplistic, but Blazer’s comments/campaign smacks more of self interest and block consolidation (Warner, again…) than anything else. As Gus says above, CONCACAF’s success record is due almost entirely to the performance of two teams. On what rational basis would Canada, Honduras or Trinidad gain an extra chance to qualify when Croatia & Russia, for example, don’t?

    UEFA will always be seen by some as the ‘bad guy’, hogging a disproportionate number of spots. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth IMO. There were 3 absolutely world class sides left out of the 2010 world cup from UEFA. Had they qualified, I would have been shocked if 1 (possibly 2) didn’t make the QFs.

    No system is perfect, of course. Mine isn’t either, but I’ll suggest it once more:

    Eliminate the “half” spots, expand the tournament by four teams (9 groups), then invite the 16 ‘best’ non-qualifiers to an LCQ tournament a 3-4 months before the final… with the best four (or six, if half spots are gone) winning qualification for the big tournament. Although the 17th best non qualifier will protest, it’s hard to argue that a last chance qualifier tournament wouldn’t provide better football in the finals than the present system. Disagree?

  4. Gbenga says:

    Thanks Bobby for the excellent breakdown of all Confederations qualifying for the World Cup dating back to Mexico’86. The problem I have with Blazer’s comments are, he is not very honest and too many times, he comes across as very deceptive person when speaking on issues like this. Blazer I believe became a FIFA Ex-Co member right after WC’94 and he never said much back then except now.

    If Blazer bothers to look at the record and performance of African countries, he would see that three African teams have made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup dating back to WC’90, when Cameroon had a wonderful run and were 7mins away from a semifinal berth against England before losing the game in extra time. Senegal made it to the WC’02 quarterfinals before losing to Turkey in extra time and Ghana were just secs away from a historic semifinal berth at WC’2010. Apart from Egypt who was there in 1934 in Italy, Africa wasn’t allowed back to the World Cup until 1970 in Mexico. WC’74 was a disaster for Africa as Zaire which is now called Democratic Republic of Congo was beaten heavily.

    Since WC’78 when Africa won its first ever WC match, Tunisia beating Mexico 3-1, drawing 0-0 with West Germany who were defending champions at that time and losing to Poland by a lone goal, it was a remarkable performance despite not making it to the second round. Africa’s performance at the WC has been good and steady ever since. Even if some teams did well and others didn’t. Remember in WC’82, Cameroon was one of the three countries not to lose any match and Algeria made an impact by beating Germany and Chile early in the group stages but due to the pact agreed upon by Germany and Austria, Algeria could not make it to the second round which I believe prompted FIFA to make changes and make all countries play simultaneously on the last day of group matches. WC’82 was one of the most injustice WC I could remember. Too many things happened on and off the field.

    Since Mexico’86, Africa has at least had a team in the second round of the WC till date. Mexico has pretty much carried the hopes of CONCACAF, apart from a brief spell of suspension from FIFA when they weren’t allowed to qualify for the Italia’90 WC. Costa Rica carried the baton in that tournament and did very well. U.S.A was out of the WC for a good 40yrs before they made it back in Italia’90. While the U.S.A has qualified for every WC since then, their record has been spotty and inconsistent. Apart from a quarterfinal berth in 2002 WC, their record in WC’90, WC’98 and WC 2006 are not that good. Second round performance in WC’94 and WC’ 2010. I believe FIFA base confederations on performances past and present and until U.S.A hopefully Canada or Costa Rica perform and are consistent, then CONCACAF deserves to get more slots.

  5. Lordofbrewtown says:

    As has been pointed out, some confederations have so few teams that using the last 8 or last 16 easily skews the stats. If we’re really interested in having the best 32 teams in the World Cup, I think the best way to accomplish that is to increase the number of 1/2 spots/playoffs. I’d go:
    Host: 1 auto
    CONCACAF: 3 auto 2 halfs
    CONMEBOL: 3auto 2 halfs
    Oceana: 0 auto 2 halfs
    AFC: 3 auto, 3 halfs
    CAF: 4 auto, 2 halfs
    UEFA: 10 auto, 5 halfs

    Playoffs: UEFA matchups against each of the other confederations, The 3 other matchups random.

    This gives everyone guaranteed representation and as many or more spots, and if UEFA & CONMEBOL are really the best, they’ll prove it.

    It also helps reduce the current problem we have of awarding spots based on past history. Yes, some confederations may typically be weak or strong. However, that can change, and this helps give more teams a change, while keeping continental rivalries/qualification processes

  6. John Bladen says:


    I agree. I don’t think anyone can reasonably say that African football hasn’t been well displayed in the last couple of decades.

    The same is not true of two other confederations, though.

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