Saudi Arabia's 5-0 capitulation to what was previously considered to be a distinctly average Russia side raised questions about the depth of quality at the 2018 World Cup. Friday's dull match between Iran and Morocco hardly offered a counterargument.
This tournament has 32 nations, with Saudi Arabia (67th) and Russia (70th) the two lowest FIFA-ranked sides taking part. But by the time we get to Canada, Mexico and the United States in 2026, there will be 48 nations who will qualify -- and many of those additional sides will be ranked even lower. That said, many take little stock in FIFA's World Ranking system, which is to be revamped from next month.
But what if this World Cup had 48 teams? Who would qualify, and how would it work? Get ready to see what draw Uganda, DR Congo, Burkina Faso and Syria could have expected.
For a start, we need to see how many additional places each confederation would get in a 48-team World Cup.
Asia: 8 (currently 4.5)
Africa: 9 (5)
Concacaf: 6 (3.5)
Europe: 16 (13)
South America: 6 (4.5)
Oceania: 1 (0.5)
That adds up to 46 teams. The outline plan is that the two additional places will be decided by a six-nation playoff, held in the World Cup host country. European nations would not be eligible for the playoffs. The two nations ranked highest by FIFA would go direct to the final, with the other four nations contesting the semifinals. The winners of the two finals would go to the World Cup.
For the purposes of this illustration, qualification places have been handed to the next-best nations in 2018 World Cup qualifying in each confederation to fill the additional slots. In addition, the two best FIFA-ranked teams after this are assumed to have won the playoffs.
Hosts are expected to take a slot from their confederation's allocation.
So, who would have qualified this year?
Africa: Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda
Asia: Australia, China (playoffs), Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria, UAE, Uzbekistan
CONCACAF: Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, USA
Europe: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, Iceland, Italy, France, Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
Oceania: New Zealand
South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay (playoffs), Peru, Uruguay
Each group would have no more than one team from each confederation, so it seems likely there would be one pot with the 16 European teams while the remaining pots would be split on FIFA World Ranking.
That makes the draw pots, based on the Oct. 17 FIFA World Ranking:
Pot 1 (UEFA): Russia, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, Iceland, Italy, France, Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
Pot 2: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica, USA, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran, Congo DR, Paraguay, Nigeria
Pot 3: Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, Burkina Faso, China, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Uganda, UAE, Uzbekistan, Syria, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand
The 48-team World Cup would start with 16 groups of three teams. The top two teams in each group would go through to the next phase, which has caused controversy as it means the teams playing the final group match could play out a draw to make it through. It has been suggested that all group-game draws are decided by penalty shootouts to prevent collusion.
A test draw produces the following groups:
Group A: Russia, Costa Rica, South Korea
Group B: Denmark, Colombia, Morocco
Group C: Croatia, Chile, Uganda
Group D: France, Iran, Burkina Faso
Group E: Portugal, Argentina, Japan
Group F: Poland, Tunisia, Trinidad & Tobago
Group G: Iceland, Uruguay, Ivory Coast
Group H: Northern Ireland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia
Group I: Italy, Congo DR, New Zealand
Group J: England, Peru, Australia
Group K: Sweden, Nigeria, UAE
Group L: Spain, USA, Uzbekistan
Group M: Switzerland, Brazil, Panama
Group N: Belgium, Egypt, Syria
Group O: Serbia, Senegal, Honduras
Group P: Germany, Paraguay, China
There would be very few marquee matches in the group stage, other than perhaps Portugal vs. Argentina. The question is just how competitive China could be against Germany and Paraguay. Or Syria against Egypt and Belgium, likewise Uganda in with Chile and Croatia.
But you could say that about any World Cup with four-team groups and one weaker side.
The top two teams in each group will go through to the knockout stage -- meaning there is an additional knockout round to what we will see in 2018.