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“The Training Ground” – Is It Time To Increase The Countries Competing At The World Cup Finals?

Written by on February 17, 2011 | 14 Comments »
Posted in The Training Ground

“The Training Ground” is a new feature where first time writers or readers who want to express a thought or opinion can submit articles for consideration.

The World Cup Finals is the most popular single sport event in the World. In 1998 it increased to 32 competing teams at the finals stage – is time to almost double that number?

Alex is a long time soccer fan and viewer of the Fox Soccer Report. He believes it is time to move to 63 teams at the World Cup Finals and this is how he would do it.

Expand the current format of 32 teams to 63.

Continental Zone/ Spots

Africa (CAF)/10

Asia (AFC)/10

Europe (UEFA)/ 28

South America (CONMEBOL)/6

North/Central America (CONCACAF)/6

Oceania (OFC)/1

Cup Holders (Reigning champions)/1

Host Country/1

Total # of countries represented/63

Final Group Stage of Qualifying


5 Groups (A to E), winners and runners-up qualify


5 Groups (A to E), winners and runners-up qualify


11 Groups, winners and runners-up qualify,  top 3rd place team qualifies. Remaining 10 third place teams playoff (draw for home and home matchups) for the 5 remaining spots

South America

2 Groups (A and B), winners and runners-up qualify, playoff (Home and Home) between 3rd place group A and 4th place group B, also between 3rd place group B and 4th place group A. Playoff winners qualify

North/Central America

3 groups, winners and runners-up qualify


Winner Qualifies

Cup Holders

Current world cup champions

Host Country

In total 63 teams will take part in the tournament,  including the opening ceremony and festivities. All teams will be guaranteed at least one game in the tournament.

The host country would automatically qualify for one of the 32 final places in the main tournament.

The other 62 teams would play single elimination games for the final 31 places in the main draw.  Brackets with groups and host cities would be attached to all 31 games in the first game elimination.

Example:    Host team starts the tournament in City A. City A will host 3 other teams decided in Games 1,2 and 3 in the single elimination draw. City B will Host the 4 winners of games 4,5,6 and 7. City C will host the 4 winners of games 8,9,10,and 11. Etc until all the brackets are filled.

Should eventually work out to 8 groups of 4 teams (as the current world cup)

Match-ups in this first round would be based on FIFA ranking (giving them finally some relevance) at a certain date (example December of the year preceding the world cup.), as the main draw is done currently.

That way, teams would know in advance of whom they are playing and what city they will start the tournament.

Example:    Top ranked Team according to FIFA ranking would play Lowest Ranked qualifying team in FIFA ranking.

2nd ranked FIFA team would then play the second lowest qualifier and so on. (1 plays 62, 2 plays 61, 3 plays 60 etc until you have the 31 vs 32 match-up.)

An example of a match-up would be the #1 FIFA ranked Italy would play the 110 ranked El Salvador.

This does create some lop-sided match-ups, however as we have all seen in the past, when it comes the world cup, anything  can happen. Some countries will be happy with their first opportunity to participate regardless of the opponent.

Chances are, we will see the same usual teams in the main tournament draw however the chances for upsets will always be there.

What do you think of this idea?

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14 responses to ““The Training Ground” – Is It Time To Increase The Countries Competing At The World Cup Finals?”

  1. Bryan says:

    Alex – Are a college basketball fan by any chance?

    It should never expand beyond 32 teams ,it gets to be a bit of a drag at times with that many as it is. Adding more would just make it far too bloated.
    Sixteen teams was the perfect number (and still is for the euros) ,but more teams did deserve to be there. And twenty-four just didn’t work ,whichever format used ,as the next euros will discover.

    So ,no.

  2. Gus Keri says:


    In addition to Bryan’s point above, there is another downside of your suggestion.

    31 teams will play only one game. This is not enough in my opinion.

    Teams should at least play 3 games, like in the current format, to experience the world cup.


    good luck for your boys today on top of winning hope you make it out without injuries.what do you know about the 17 yr old i think his name is Sterling?

  4. Soccerlogical says:

    Spot Cristiano Ronaldo!!

  5. WileyJ says:

    Logical – Thanks for that, you Sir were the provider of my morning laugh – very funny.

  6. Kevin says:

    Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Stay at 32!

  7. Alex says:

    Thanks for comments, I appreciate all points of view.
    In response to the comments, we are only talking about adding an extra week of games, think about the revenue it would generate as well as in the local markets of the participating countries (I know FIFA is probably not opposed to money). Canadian kids could imagine one day participating instead of saying USA and Mexico get the first 2 slots, there is only one open slot for CONCACAF. In terms of 31 teams only getting to play one game, don’t some olympic athletes travel halfway around the world to throw a shot put three times. Its worth it for them..

  8. CACuzcatlan says:

    Bryan, the Euros will now have 24 teams.

  9. John Bladen says:

    Interesting idea, Alex.

    I tend to agree that going to 60+ teams is a huge jump. Any team going should be guaranteed a minimum of three games in my view. As an aside, I can see a future where FIFA will expand groups to five clubs, thus guaranteeing four games each… and more money to fill the unmarked burlap bags heading back to Geneva…

    However, given that the product is already heavily watered down at 32 teams, I would not be opposed to increasing to 36 or thereabouts. When we are talking about a competition that allegedly includes the best nations in the world, it is hard to justify having New Zealand and North Korea qualifying when Croatia, Russia & Egypt did not.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I actually favour a last chance qualifier type tournament. It would feature (at least) the 16 highest ranked teams not qualifying under the present formula, and the final “four” would get to the WCF. It would be a great tourney for nations too small to host the world cup itself to put on, no?

    With 36 teams, you get 9 groups of four… meaning the second place clubs in the group stage are no longer all guaranteed a spot in R16. You can thin the ranks any number of ways from there, but I’d suggest the 9 group winners, followed by the 5 next highest point total teams, then the next four playoff for the remaining two spots in R16.

    More teams, more games, more money. And only a slightly longer tournament than we have now.

  10. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    Thanks for contributing an article.

    As others have said, I don’t like the fact that many teams will only get one game. And could you imagine if a big team gets upset with only playing one game? The media madness would be unrestrained.

    I also don’t like the idea of 63 teams. Instead, add another team to get to 64. This would retain a true bracket symmetry and would only add another game. Top two from each group of four advance (16 groups of 4). Advancing to R32, R16, QF, etc. Having each team play a minimum of three games is a must.

    That being said, I don’t favour going from 32 to 64. I think at 32 we have a very good workable number with 8 groups of four. Just as with the NCAA tourny, adding teams will still leave those teams just missing out whining. Keep it at 32.

  11. John Bladen says:

    Agreed, Theo.

    It doesn’t matter how many nations ‘get in’, there will always be a few who have legitimate claim to a place in the elite tournament.

    On the basis of ‘level of play’, I’d make the argument that 32 might be too many. Of late too much effort has been expended to include participants based on ‘geographic’ considerations. It should be a competitive tournament first and foremost. So long as the most populous regions have a path to qualification, competition is satisfied. If no nations in Asia (or North America, for that matter) are good enough to qualify, then none should be at the final tournament.

    Being ‘inclusive’ in this way is less about social values than finances, IMO. It may help marketing and immediate financial considerations, but ultimately it detracts from the importance and sporting purity of the enterprise.

  12. Thomas says:

    The short answer is: No.

    The long answer is, much like this article, too long and confusing.

  13. Alex says:

    one final point. Without having a chance at the world cup, the sport will never grow at the elite level in some countries (Canada included). The reason some nations of 2 or 3 million population can compete (Ireland, Slovenia etc) is that they believe they can make it and put money into their programs. Some countries of 50 or 100 million know they cant qualify and fund accordingly.
    The way it is now, even though its over 50 years away, I can already name over half the teams in world cup 2062.
    As for a big team being eliminated after one game. Just win, problem solved.

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