Resurrection of the 48-nation World Cup ‘wild card’, what changes will Korea experience?

In the ‘2026 North and Central America World Cup’, the so-called ‘wild card’, which is given a chance to survive to the third place in the group stage, is revived. Korea has experienced three 24-team World Cups where this system existed.

On the 15th (Korean time), the International Football Federation (FIFA) introduced three systems introduced as the number of participating teams in the World Cup in North and Central America increased from 32 to 48. As before, four teams will form a group and proceed to the group stage. There are 12 groups in total. The 24 teams that placed 1st and 2nd in each group will automatically advance to the Round of 32. Among the top 3 in each group, 8 additional teams will survive and advance to the round of 32 in order of performance. FIFA originally intended to conduct a group stage with three teams in each group, but discarded it due to lack of fairness and the possibility of collusion.

A similar system existed even when there were 24 teams participating in the World Cup. The number of participating teams at WorldCom started with 13 teams in the first competition and has increased to the current 32 teams. The 16-team system was maintained for a long time, but since 1982, 24 teams participated in 4 competitions.

From 1986 to 1994, Korea participated in three World Cups with a wild card system, but never made it past the group stage. In 1986 and 1990 they finished fourth in their group. 1994 was the worst. At the time, Korea had a great performance, but recorded 2 draws and 1 loss, but it was the worst among the 3rd place teams in each group, so it was not included in the wild card.

The introduction of the wild card system greatly increases Korea’s chances of passing the group stage. Among the competitions that Korea was eliminated from the group stage, the 2006 and 2018 World Cups were the best among the eliminated teams. Wildcards are tournaments that would have survived if there had been one. What they have in common is that even after one win, they fell. Looking at this precedent, it seems that even one win out of three group stage matches in the 2026 competition will be enough to advance to the round of 16. However, aiming to advance to the round of 16 with 2 draws and 1 loss like in 1994 is unreasonable.

As the number of participating teams increases by 12, advancing to the round of 16 becomes easier in that the number of relatively weak teams increases significantly. Korea will not be in the same group as Asian countries, but compared to the previous competition, 3 teams from Europe, 0.83 teams from Oceania, 1.83 teams from South America, 3.17 teams from North and Central America, and 4.33 teams from Africa will increase. It is not difficult to place third in the group even if this number of countries that have not previously passed the World Cup qualifiers participate and are placed in the same group as Korea. 세븐 토토

However, passing the group stage is only advancing to the round of 32, the same as advancing to the previous World Cup finals. Previously, Korea’s goal was to reach the round of 16 or higher. If you keep the same goal, you have to win the first game of the tournament after passing through the group stage at the World Cup in China to advance to the round of 16.

If we look to the round of 16, we need to go beyond just passing through the group stage with good results. Like all competitions, the World Cup in North and Central America is likely to pit a team with a good group stage performance against a team with a bad team in the round of 32. If Korea advances to the round of 32 with a pull-up, they will face a strong team that took first place in another group. If possible, they should place 1st or 2nd in their group. Even if you made it to the round of 32 with second place in your group, if your grades are on the poor side, you may meet the first place in another group.

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