One day, sooner or later it appears, the number of countries at the World Cup finals will be increased from the current 32.
Three of the four candidates for the FIFA presidency have talked of it; even Sepp Blatter has ‘thought out loud’ about it in the past.
One obstacle has been making the maths ‘work’ under the traditional mini-leagues/knockout system.
However Leandro Shara, a Chilean accountant, believes he has the answer with formats which would also accentuate the need for teams to try to win every game.
The pressure for World Cup expansion is driven by dissatsfaction beyond Europe about an imbalance in how the other continents are represented.
Everything else in football has evolved down the years: pitch quality, stadium design, broadcasting technology, real-time statistics, kit, crowd control, safety, etc. Only competition formats have remained stuck in time.
As Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German federation and shortly to become a member of the FIFA excutive committee, once put it: “An increase is feasible. However, we can’t seem to determine how to reduce 36 teams to only 16 in the next phase with a clear and fair system which is understood by everybody.”
Increasing participants under the traditional format implies an exponential growth in number of matches, days of competition and costs – not to mention the unsatisfactory ‘best third-placed teams’ muddle.
Wisely Shara’s MatchVision company, aware of unhappy historical precedents, has protected his ideas with legal registration before discussing them with various international sports federations.
Put simply, his PotsSystem© generates fixtures based on initial seeding and then positions in an overall Unique General Standings© table.
This not only allows for more teams but presents them with the need to win all their games rather than settling for draws or even ‘tactical’ defeats.
In the 16-team knockout section teams are matched on their first-round position: a team heading the UGS© will play the 16th-placed team with the runners-up against the 15th team etc. This is the reason that achieving the best possible results in the opening stage is an imperative.
Mathematically, match manipulation would drop from a potential 67pc possibility (under Luis Figo’s proposal for a two-continent 48–team World Cup), to 5.6pc under the Pots System©.
The overall result, says Shara, is a tournament “which eliminates match-fixing, improves the quality of the competition, creates value for investors, sponsors and broadcasters, and, consequently, expands revenues.”
If nothing else, that last factor should intrigue FIFA’s money men.
As for the timeframe, a Pots System© keeps the tournament compact.
In Brazil last year the 32-team finals were played in 64 matches over 32 days. Shara envisages a 40-team finals being played with 76 matches over 34 days or a 48-team finals in 88 matches over 38 days.
In fact, Shara’s personal preference is a 42-team tournament which would deliver 79 matches (63 in the first round, 16 in the knockout stage) over 34 days.
Hence the timing barely changes but the match totals rise which would push up the broadcasting revenues.
If Shara can persuade FIFA then he might have a first-hand opportunity to see his work rewarded. The likeliest first opportunity for an expanded World Cup is the centenary tournament in 2030 . . . which could be staged across his native South America to celebrate the Uruguayan original.