Soccer Stuff Today …

FIFA held its big annual meeting this week in Kigali, Rwanda and voted there to expand the 2026 World Cup even more than had been planned.  The decision to expand from 32 teams to 48 teams was already in the cards but the preliminary plans had been to break the Group phase up into sixteen groups with 3 teams each.  That would have set up a World Cup Tournament in 2026 with 80 games to be played.  At this year’s meeting, FIFA voted to stay with 4 teams per group in the Group Phase meaning there will be 104 games in the entire tournament.

The 2026 World Cup will be hosted jointly by Canada, Mexico and the US.  In making the announcement, FIFA of course painted itself with righteousness saying that this decision was taken only after:

“ … a thorough review that considered sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting attractiveness, as well as team and fan experience.”

Let me translate that for you:

  • FIFA knows that expansion to 48 teams means there will be lots of teams overmatched in the tournament leading to more non-competitive games than usual; it also recognizes that more games in the tournament will mean more wear and tear on players and more travel.  However, the commercial considerations of more games on TV plus more ticket sales for those extra 24 games totally outweigh any other complaints or concerns.  Follow the money…
  • The host cities for the World Cup – – 11 in the US, 3 in Mexico and 2 in Canada – – will probably be happy to have more fans in more hotel rooms and restaurants with the added games.  This is a financial bonanza and needs to be seen as exactly that.

One of the downsides to the latest expansion is that the knockout round in 2026 will consist of 32 teams and not 16.  Remember that the entire field for the World Cup in 2022 consisted of 32 teams so even in the knockout round there are likely to be more mismatches than in the past.  This format sets the stage for an upset of gargantuan proportion about once every two decades – – and a lot more secondary interest matches.

Sticking with soccer comments today, I went to take a look at the latest English Premier League table – – that is “the standings” for US folks who have not learned to speak even the most basic international soccer lingo.  Most teams have completed almost 75% of the season; most teams have played 27 games out of the 38 game schedule.  Arsenal and Manchester City  are at the top of the table and there is a 10-point gap between second-place Manchester City and the third-place team, Manchester United.  It would take a monumental collapse by both teams at the top of the table should anyone else with the EPL this year.

As always, I like to look at the bottom of the table because the EPL uses relegation of its three worst teams and promotion of the three best teams from the Champions League to create next year’s EPL schedule.  By this point in most seasons, there is usually one team that has all but given up the ghost and four other teams that are battling to stay out of the three-team relegation zone.  Not this year; the bottom of the table has nine of the 20 EPL teams within five points of one another.

Points are awarded as such:

  • Three points for a match win.
  • One point for a match draw

So, if the team in last place – 20th place – this morning (Southampton) went on a two-game win streak and if the team in twelfth place this morning (Crystal Palace) lost their next two matches, Southampton would vault over Crystal Palace in the table.  The race at the top is interesting; Arsenal and Manchester City play each other in late April.  But it is the “race -to-avoid-the-bottom that should be more interesting.

In the English Champions League, there are two teams that appear to be shoo-ins for promotion to the EPL next year.  Burnley has an 13-point lead over second-place Sheffield United with nine games left to play; they do not have the league title mathematically in hand, but they are on a glide path to promotion.  Sheffield United has a 6-point lead over third-place Middlesbrough and the race for fourth place is important too since the third Champions League team to earn promotion comes from a playoff game between the third place and the fourth place team.  As of this morning, the gap between third-place and sixth place in the English Champions League is a meager 4 points.

I want to say something about the scheduling for the EPL and other English Football Leagues:

  • The teams play a perfectly balanced schedule.  There are 20 teams in the EPL, and each team plays 38 games – – two each against the other 19 teams in the league home and home.  Perfect…
  • This is the model the NBA should adopt.  They have 30 teams; they should play a 58-game schedule – – two each against the other 29 teams in the league home and home.

Currently, the NBA and the NBPA are trying to figure out how to deal with load-management which is PR-speak for players playing hooky.  If an 82-game schedule is too burdensome and grueling for today’s  players, then cut the schedule back so that fans do not experience bait-and-switch when they buy tickets to see “the stars” play and then they don’t

NBA players liken themselves to entertainment super-stars.  To hear them explain it, they are the attraction that generates the revenues that gives them the opportunity to sign contracts worth more than $200M guaranteed.  Well, with great fame and attractiveness comes great responsibility and the biggest responsibility is “showing up”.

Bruce Springsteen has been a super-star for years; when he was on tour, people traveled from city to city to hear him perform in multiple venues on that tour.  And they never showed up to learn at the last minute that Springsteen was doing “load management” on his finger callouses and would be “sitting out” tonight’s concert while Joe Flabeetz filled in with his stylings on the ocarina.

Finally, since much of today was about soccer, let me close with two observations about the game:

“Football is a matter of life and death – except more important.”  [Bill Shankly, former manager of Liverpool FC]

And …

“If God had wanted man to play soccer, He wouldn’t have given us arms.”  [Mike Ditka]

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



4 thoughts on “Soccer Stuff Today …”

  1. Jack,
    As you already know, but wanting to inform others: there are 3 Premier League teams with a curse word in their names. 1. Arsenal, 2. Scunthorpe United, and 3. Manchester F*****g United!

    Just Sayiin’ G

  2. Let’s do the math: starting in 2026 with 48 teams and increasing each subsequent FIFA World Cup by 16 teams, it will take until 2064 before nearly all of the world’s countries–192 teams–are represented in the World Cup.

    The Silver-and-Black Raiders may have another Super Bowl by then.

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