#CanadaRed soccer weekly: No to 48-team World Cup, Yes to playoff games

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Gavin Day
FIFA President Gianni Infantino attends the World Summit on Ethics and Leadership in Sports at the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
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With 32 teams, the World Cup currently is at the right size where it’s inclusive of virtually every region on the planet while taking care to not have too many lopsided matchups and scores.

But when it comes to its biggest cash cow, you can always count on FIFA to squeeze out as much potential revenue as possible so it’s no surprise that new president Gianni Infantino has proposed a 48-team tournament.

With 16 more teams, the tournament would become a bloated monstrosity: too many teams, too many fans and a logistical nightmare for anything other than the biggest, most organized nation. If Brazil hung on by a thread over the course of the World Cup and Olympic hosting gigs, one could only imagine how they would fare with a bigger tournament to organize. Would there be other stadia sitting idle in the middle of the Amazon like the facility in Manaus?

The one idea that’s intriguing is the one-game playoff for the bottom 16 teams. For many countries (Canada, for one), it would mean a last little bit of hope that could linger should regular qualifying not give them that.

And while it’s tough to imagine how some fans would end up travelling for just one game, many fans (including Canadians) already travel to World Cups anyway, even with no representation.

Everyone loves the Cinderella story like Iceland’s from the recent Euro Cup. If the plan for the one-game playoff were to be incorporated into the current 32-team format where four, six, or eight spots were up for grabs, FIFA may be on to something. But the idea of 48 teams should never come to fruition.

Waiters remains in lonely company

30 years after Canada’s only appearance at the FIFA World Cup, Tony Waiters maintains the honour as the only coach to ever guide Canada to the world’s top tournament.

Though Canada went out without a win, Waiters guided Canada to qualifying by picking up wins in Guatemala and Honduras along with a tie in Costa Rica. It’s the kind of success that’s been unheard of for Canadian teams since, as qualifying cycles have repeatedly met their end with Canadians crumbling in the heat and unique playing conditions of Central America.

“I can remember when we played at Guatemala and what happened is around our hotel people were marching around all night,” Waiters told Yahoo Canada Sports earlier this week. “It was suggested by some people in the media that it was done deliberately but I don’t think it was. I think that people had come in for the game from out of town and didn’t want to spend money on a hotel.”

Since Waiters relinquished the post for the second time in 1991, coaches have come and gone with the program spinning its wheels. There was the 2000 Gold Cup win for the program to hang its hat on but current interim head coach Michael Findlay will be the 10th coach on either an interim or full-time basis after Waiters.

“I think what we had was a very good group of players and what happened at that time, they came from a different era from the players of today,” said Waiters. “Most of them had played men’s soccer by the time they were 15 or 16, which is frowned upon a little bit these days. They try to keep players within their own age group.”

He acknowledged that not everyone is ready at a young age but uses an adage often employed by women’s national team head coach John Herdman: ”If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” Waiters pointed to Vancouver’s 15-year-old phenom Alphonso Davies as an example of a player well-suited to make a step forward despite his youth.

And while the national team continues to look for players that can help the national program right away, Waiters says there’s a rich vein of untapped talent in Canada. Many of the world’s top players come from humble backgrounds and it’s an area Canada could look to for future talents.

“Some of the potential best players don’t play in our system and they’re in the inner cities. They can’t afford to play,” said Waiters, who is working to get programs started that caters to these young people. “In many cases, refugees and immigrants and sometimes single-parent families usually without transportation and can’t afford to pay to play.”

Post-Floro era starts earlier than planned

It’s a good thing Canada’s first of a two-game stint was moved up a day.

Canada was supposed to play Mauritania on Friday but due to Morocco’s elections on the same day that would utilize the Grand Stade Marrakech, the game was moved to Thursday and it’s probably for the best.

As reported in the Telegraph, Morocco officials arrested 10 potential ISIS bombers that intended to attack on election day. Scheduling a camp all the way in Morocco was an interesting decision already and it’s probably for the best that they avoid potential terror targets.

Canada beat Mauritania 4-0 with Tosaint Ricketts scoring a pair and Steven Vitoria and Marcus Haber each adding one each.