Yuto Nagatomo and Ritsu Doan of Japan rejoice beating Spain. Photograph / Getty
Absolutely Fifa will rethink now.
Absolutely soccer’s governing physique will see sense and reverse their loopy plan for the 2026 World Cup, which would be the finish of the beloved group stage as we all know
It’s been a bittersweet feeling watching the motion from Doha over the previous few days.
I can’t assist however be enthralled and enraptured by the unbelievable drama. It is perhaps recency bias, nevertheless it’s arduous to recall a World Cup group section that has had extra.
It began with the tense scenes in Group D on Thursday, with Australia hanging on desperately towards Denmark.
Even when the Danes had been operating out of time for a win, a late purpose for the Scandinavians would have eradicated the Socceroos, with Tunisia progressing.
If that was particular, then the four-way battle in Group C topped that, as Poland walked the tightrope towards Argentina, with Mexico and Saudi Arabia additionally in rivalry.
The vary of permutations had been staggering – at one stage the sixth potential tiebreaker was getting used to separate Poland and Mexico – and the followers had been confronted with the ‘can’t look, can’t look away’ state of affairs.
After which got here Friday. The entrée was dramatic sufficient, as 2018 semifinalists Belgium had been eradicated, whereas Morocco topped Group F.
However the scenes in Group E had been one thing else, befitting of a Hollywood script.
Early targets to Spain and Germany meant the European heavyweights had been going via as anticipated, at the start flipped.
First Japan got here again – to have the Germans teetering – earlier than Costa Rica took the lead, which meant that Spain can be flying dwelling.
It was loopy. Germany then received again in rivalry and a late Spanish purpose would have knocked Japan out on purpose distinction. Sensational stuff, the form of gripping scenes most different international sporting occasions can solely dream about.
Fifa has been blessed with the right format – however they’re about to throw it away, abandoning the traditional four-team teams which have been a part of each World Cup since 1954.
As an alternative, the expanded 48-team match in 2026 may have 16 teams of three, with the highest two progressing to the knockout levels.
The choice so as to add 16 extra nations is debatable – nobody can be excited a couple of cohort of groups on Qatar’s degree – however comprehensible, given the continued development of the game, the will to open up extra alternatives on the high desk (China, anyone?) and Fifa’s rapacious want to seek out extra income streams.
However three-team teams? That’s bonkers. Neglect about intrigue and drama, it’s prone to be a procession.
It’ll seemingly be the tip of any closing day drama – actually not on the size now we have witnessed in Qatar – with solely two groups in motion.
It might additionally result in collusion – keep in mind the notorious ‘Anschluss’ of 1982 – or as a minimum unfair eventualities for one of many groups.
It’s all so pointless, as 12 teams of 4 can be an imperfect however considerably superior answer.
Fifa’s predominant justification for his or her radical plan is time, with the additional knockout stage (spherical of 32) that means match days need to be saved elsewhere, given the assorted calls for on the calendar.
However that doesn’t stack up.
Fifa made all types of modifications to accommodate this mid-season version in Qatar, so tacking on a further week or two to their quadrennial occasion is unquestionably potential.
The group stage is, with out fail, the very best a part of a World Cup.
It’s stuffed with color – with all of the followers in attendance – and the soccer is extra open that the knockout rounds, the place the stakes get larger.
However most of all, there’s real jeopardy and a way of the sudden which interprets to the very best sporting theatre.
Tinkering with a traditional formulation has by no means labored – simply ask Coca Cola or Ford – and the proof of the previous few days has accentuated that concern.
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