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FIFA Announce Regional Allocations for 48-Nation World Cup in 2026

Friday 31st March 2017
The BBC's Richard Conway broke the news on Thursday. FIFA and the six continental federations have agreed on regional allocations for the expanded forty-eight nation World Cup in 2026. Here is a breakdown for each continent's allotment with thoughts on possible implications. Number of nations which will compete from each federation are in parentheses.
Oceania Football Conference (1)

Winston Reid is jumping for joy, as is every All Whites supporter. With Australia now competing in Asia, New Zealand bosses the confederation comprising tiny Pacific island nations. No longer will Kiwis have to play a two-legged tie against fourth or fifth placed nations from another federation. Just maintain superiority in Oceania and they're in like flint. Given New Zealand's comparative human and financial resources, that doesn't appear an issue for the foreseeable future.
Asian Football Confederation (8) 

Its motto, "The Future is Asia," hasn't exactly become reality for the confederation governing the planet's most heavily populated continent. When 2026 rolls around, that may have changed significantly should China wisely spend the vast sums it is investing in the Chinese Super League. World class players are being signed to every top flight club. More importantly, world class managers are there to coach them. The league has bent to pressure from the government (as if it had any choice), strictly limiting foreign player signings while mandating youth team players are given opportunities in senior teams. With Marcello Lippi managing the national team, up and coming Chinese professionals will be exposed to advanced methods, tactics, and play. If India follows suit, Asia may raise its coefficient sufficiently to have an eye for the extra spot awarded the...
Confederation of African Football (9)

Like Asia, Africa leapfrogged South America but went one better to be superseded only by Europe in regional allocations for World Cup berths. Africa's economic growth hasn't kept pace with Asia. However, experts are predicting Africa's population explosion will have significant global impact. Coupled with African players' growing influence in European leagues, it makes sense for the moment to award the continent which gave birth to humanity one more entrant than the one where most people live. It will be interesting to witness each region's footballing evolution unfold in the next decade. When Asia comes calling for that ninth spot, will Africa be able to wave an admonishing finger and say, "Non, non, mon ami?"
Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football (6)

While gaining two and a half guaranteed berths* for 2026, CONCACAF is the region most adversely affected by the new system from a qualification standpoint. The confederation will have to completely reinvent its qualifying format. Currently, there are two group stages countries must negotiate to progress. The second, known as the Hexagonal, is a six-team round robin. Despite Mexico and the United States being virtual locks for two places and Costa Rica recently dominating the third, it is a compelling competition in which the remaining three countries gain a unique opportunity to go toe to toe with the big boys. With six teams now guaranteed entry to World Cup 2026, the Hexagonal is a lame duck tournament. CONCACAF officials must devise a new process. They could opt for a ten or twelve nation round robin but Decagonal or Dodecagonal just don't have the same ring. They could adopt UEFA's model, forty-one members dividing into five groups of seven, one of six, with group winners advancing to the World Cup. Yet, due to the region's top heavy talent distribution, interest, and therefore ticket sales and television ratings, would quickly fade as schools of minnows are systematically eliminated from contention by a lone shark in each group. Perhaps there could be two Hexagonals, similar to the current AFC format, in which the top three from each hex advance. Countries would remain in the hunt longer, creating a more entertaining competition. Another option is for the two confederations in the American hemisphere come together, creating a super federation to rival UEFA, although the notion has consistently been rejected by South America.

*The fourth-placed qualifier from CONCACAF must win a two-legged tie against another federation's country every four years in the current system.
CON•federación Suda•ME•ricana de Fút•BOL (6)

Don't ask me why the South American federation's founders used the first three letters from the first, middle two from the second, and last three from the final word in their body's formal title to create its acronym, or whatever it's called in this case. Maybe they enjoyed word puzzles. Maybe, with just ten countries and two years to kill between Copa América and World Cup tournaments, they had time on their hands. Regardless, CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifiers just became further diluted. Sixty rather than fifty percent of its competing nations will now progress. For powers such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, quadrennial appearances at the final are taken for granted. Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador are always in the mix for the other two. Peru, Paraguay, and Bolivia occasionally upset the guava cart. Venezuela are the little brother just happy to tag along. On the one hand, merging with CONCACAF might afford the least talented South American nations greater opportunity to qualify by annexing spots that will now go to tiny countries such as Trinidad and Panama. On the other, there is less profit and greater expense in traveling to or hosting Caribbean and Central American nations during the qualification process. Plus, one federation means some power brokers will lose their cushy jobs. Money talks, Opportunity walks.
Union of European Football Federations (16)

While UEFA's percentage of entrants to the World Cup was reduced from forty to thirty-three, it was also given more slots, thereby still claiming nearly double the participants any other federation can boast. Obviously, Europe also continues to wield greater power than any other region. Speaking as a biased North American, this is just another reason for a CONCACAF-CONMEBOL merger. Perhaps the greatest benefit for UEFA will be it no longer must twist itself into a pretzel devising fair but incredibly complicated group stage formats. With sixteen entrants, there can be eight groups with two nations advancing from each. Of course, being European, this will seem unfairly exclusive to UEFA. So, we will likely see second and third-placed countries drawn into two-legged ties for the bottom eight berths. When you think about how complicated continentals make everything, you can see why Brexit passed.
Fédération Internationale de Football Association

($€£¥ 1,000,000,000,000,000,000...)

What's done is done, though. Having hashed out a somewhat equitable distribution for 2026's World Cup places, making it seem inclusive rather than purely avaricious, FIFA can now decide where the competition will be held and how to go about that in a transparent, incorrupt fashion.

Yeah, like that will ever happen.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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