Initially, Fifa wanted the Cup with 48 teams – as it will be from 2026 – to have, in the regulation, 16 groups with 3 countries. The first two would pass and there would be one more knockout stage (16th of finals). But we all know how groups like that are, there is always the possibility that the third game will have a strange result or a dynamic conditioned by what the countries involved will need.
During the week, news leaked that FIFA was considering two possibilities. One, which would certainly generate a lot of debate, would be a penalty shootout after the ties. Another, forming 12 groups with 4 countries – without explaining much how it would be.
I believe that what happened in the last round of the group stage of the current World Cup already sets the tone for FIFA. The classified or almost classified selections sent reserve or mixed teams to the field. Would Tunisia beat starting France? Would Japan beat Spain? And would Korea beat Portugal? The fact is that there was a sporting distortion, due to the balance of football today and the lack of competitiveness of those who had already scored points.
In a Cup with 12 groups 4 countries, the first two would qualify. However, the top eight placed would earn a direct spot in the round of 16. The four worst first placed and the eight second placed would make one more round, to know who would advance to the eighth. This would mean more effort in pursuit of the maximum score in the group stage.
Yes, this option involves the creation of an extra phase, it would be more games, the clubs would not like it very much. The organizers would have more work and expenses, but there are three countries and 16 venues – it fits. Fifa would be richer. Anyway, it is obvious that these decisions are far from being simple, but sportingly it would be better for the Cup, since they committed the “crime” of increasing the number of participants so much.