This week Syria’s unlikely World Cup dream ended in Sydney. They finished sixth in the Asian qualifiers, which produced four finalists and one play off contender from 46 teams. South America also has four finalists and one team in the play-offs, from ten teams. Disproportionate representation in the finals from South America and Europe (13 qualifiers, from 52 teams) is attributed to historical success but the argument is increasingly untenable given that representation from the other continents has always been minimal.
Is there a solution, other than the planned increase to 48 finalists still weighted in favour of Europe and South America? Yes. It’s called global qualifying. FIFA has 210 members. Divide them into 30 groups of 6 teams, based in regions. They play each other home and away with the top two going through. That gives 60 teams in the second round, divided into 15 groups of 4. Each group should be split evenly between the continents. They then play each other home and away, with the top two joining the holders, who have lost their automatic place in recent years, and the host in the finals.
Every nation would be guaranteed ten competitive games against their neighbours, followed by a second round with proportional representation from each continent. It might still produce an uneven balance in favour of Europe or South America but at least every country would have an equal opportunity to progress.