Michael Lewis considers himself to be connoisseur of the World Cup. He started following it regularly in 1978, has covered the last eight in person and has written four books about the greatest show on earth.

By Michael Lewis

Front Row Soccer Editor

The way FIFA is dealing with an expanded World Cup for 2016 and beyond, I feel that I am watching a rerun of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Except this time she is saying, “You’re getting a World Cup berth! And you’re getting a World Cup berth. And so are you!”

The latest news out of Zurich, Switzerland for the expanded, 48-team World Cup is out of control.

What was once a challenge and an honor to reach the greatest show on earth has been a travesty.

The Bureau of the FIFA Council, which is made up of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the presidents of each of the six confederations agreed to the following allotments Thursday:

* 16 Europe (up from 13)

* 9 Africa (up from 5)

* 8 Asia (up from 4 or 5)

* 6 CONCACAF (up from 3 or 4)

* 6 South America (up from 4 or 5)

* 1 Oceania (from 0 or 1)

Now, that gives us 46 teams, with two more countries determined by a new, worldwide version of the hexagonal.

The rules:

* Six teams (one from each confederation except UEFA, plus a second one from the confederation of the host or hosts) will enter

* Two countries (based of their FIFA ranking) will be seeded and have first-round byes

* The other four national sides will be paired and play single knockout games

* The two seeds and two knockout winners will play single games with the winners going to the World Cup

In other words, qualifying, particularly in CONCACAF, would be watered down considerably and make the U.S.’s process less daunting.

Qualifying should be difficult and a challenge. It is the best way to separate the men and from boys, on a particular team and between competing countries. That’s when we discover what a player and a team is all about.

Infantino’s new procedure only waters down the World Cup. This proposal is only insulting to soccer fans, players and national teams.

The World Cup is supposed to be a special competition.

I feel FIFA has brought the World Cup down to the level of what we have seen at some levels of youth soccer in the states, where seemingly everyone gets a participation trophy.

That is not the way to honor and celebrate the world’s greatest month-long sporting event.

My solution? Go back to the 32 teams, but unfortunately Infantino’s genie is out of the bottle and it is way too late to go back.







Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.