Breaking: Fifa announce continental allocation of slots for 2026 World Cup:
Confirmed Australia and New Zealand will now qualify for every tournament.
Based on current WCQ standings, it is incredible to think that shite like the UAE, Uzbeks, Syria and Australia would qualify whilst teams consisting of Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic and even Paraguay would miss out.
I have no love for the expansion, but speaking as someone who watches plenty of WCQ around the world, you really wouldn't be missing much from those teams right now, even compared to the AFC ones you mention IMHO. Drudgery wouldn't begin to describe it, and at least there is genuine untapped potential in Asia and a whole lot of new interesting aspects on offer (Syria would be an incredible story, it was fun just watching them at the 2011 AC where they were decent value...and they showed far more passion for the cause than the Dutch/Danes/Czechs/etc. do these days). European NT football, not just the top (where it's excelled in the recent WCs) but in its traditional second tier of teams (where it most certainly hasn't), reached its last peak at the turn of the century and is increasingly in a rut with little light on the horizon from what I see.
There is also a possible healthy side effect I'm mindful of here. One positive from the otherwise stupid Euros expansion is that it seemed to encourage a lot of traditional third/fourth tier teams (Wales, Hungary, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Albania) to get their shit in order and have a real crack at qualification instead of just going through their usual dead-end motions because it was supposedly way too hard to qualify previously. It really wasn't, especially recently, but it's similar in Asia. I also actually think part of the problem in the AFC is that so much of the confederation isn't involved in big time football - not just with the 4/5 team WC allocation but only 12 teams competing in the final prolonged stage of group qualification where things get much more serious and testing than in the earlier rounds and even the Asian Cup. If you have eight teams qualifying, then you're probably going to go to 20+ teams for the final stage of group qualifying and a lot more teams are exposed to the most testing and high pressure football in the confederation, on top of the increased incentive for usual also-rans to get their shit in order more with a WC spot now well in reach.
Obviously it could just go the other way with the lowering of the bar leading to a decreased level of competition, but I think people are at risk of jumping the gun with the plain negativity about this (not that FIFA do themselves any favours, especially on the back of Qatar). Let's see what happens. Fundamentally and mathematically (and, yes, politically), taking into account the far lower number of FIFA-affiliated teams of the time, the expansion for 1982 had some significant parallels to this one and that was for the better for the tournament (and world football) ultimately. The one really stupid thing about that expansion was simply the format of illogical three-team groups, and I hope the same for this one is swiftly abandoned afterwards like it was for 1986.