Liam Morgan

They called it the Disgrace of Gijón. Others referred to it as the Anschluss, a derogatory reference to the unification of Austria and Nazi Germany back in 1936.

West Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria in the final match in Group Two at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain sparked unprecedented levels of fury and the scandal remains one of the darker days in the history of the quadrennial showpiece.

The teams walked onto the pitch at the El Molinón stadium in the Spanish city knowing victory for the West Germans by either one or two goals would see both sides reach the next round at the expense of the plucky Algerians, who had stunned the world with a 2-1 victory over the Germans in their opening match.

So when Horst Hrubesch broke the deadlock after just 10 minutes to give West Germany the lead, the players decided that was the that. Match over. Progression secured.

What followed was so blatant, so obvious that mutiny was gathering in the stands. The two nations passed the ball around the respective defences, largely unchallenged, while barely a shot or a tackle was recorded during the entirety of the 80 minutes which remained. The rare efforts on goal were deliberately skewed wide. Accuracy was not on the menu.

The match left a sour taste in the mouth, particularly for the Algerians, who were on the brink of a truly momentous achievement. Instead, the actions of the West Germans and Austrians meant their brief stay at the competition came to a disgraceful end.

Horst Hrubesch (left) scored the only goal in the infamous 1-0 win over Austria at the 1982 World Cup ©Getty Images
Horst Hrubesch (left) scored the only goal in the infamous 1-0 win over Austria at the 1982 World Cup ©Getty Images

World football’s governing body FIFA – for a change, some cynics might say – acted swiftly and declared the final group matches at the World Cup from every ensuing tournament would be played simultaneously in order to avoid a repeat occurrence.

Yet this scenario is precisely what could happen under plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams, which are widely expected to be rubber-stamped on Tuesday (January 10) during a meeting of FIFA’s ruling Council in Zurich.

The proposal, spearheaded by FIFA President Gianni Infantino – who pledged to grow the tournament when he was campaigning for the top job at the corruption-plagued organisation – which is likely to be given the green light is one where the 48 nations will be split into 16 groups of three, with the top two from each progressing to a 32-team knockout round.

This opens up the possibility of plenty of dead rubbers, with the expanded competition likely to mean diluted quality, as well as offering nations the chance to play to essentially a pre-determined result beforehand, as was the case 35 years ago in Spain.

In order to combat another scandalous situation, FIFA are looking at ensuring every match ends in a winner – by penalty shoot-out if necessary. They are once again tampering with tradition to line their swelling coffers even further.

According to the excellent Jamil Chade in the Estadão newspaper, a 48-team World Cup could provide $6.5 billion (£5.3 billion/€6.2 billion) of income for the worldwide governing body, an increase of 25 per cent compared with the 2014 edition in Brazil, which itself was the richest-ever competition.

Going against the very essence of the game by removing draws from the equation is therefore a price worth paying if you are FIFA and Infantino.

It is this element, among others – such as the obvious fact more teams will provoke less quality in a tournament which is supposed to involve only the world’s best – where the opposition should be directed. After all, when the FIFA Council agree to Infantino’s preferred 48-team format, there will be no increase in the maximum amount of matches any nation could play – a bugbear for the most vehement of critics to the idea as they feel the strains being put on the modern day footballer are bad enough as it is.

Gianni Infantino has spearheaded the expansion of the FIFA World Cup, which is expected to be confirmed next week ©Getty Images
Gianni Infantino has spearheaded the expansion of the FIFA World Cup, which is expected to be confirmed next week ©Getty Images

Perhaps the strongest words uttered against the proposals have come from the European Club Association (ECA) and its chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who was withdrawn after 66 minutes during West Germany’s infamous match with Austria.

Last month, the current chairman of Bayern Munich said the plans were politically and financially motivated, while a statement from the ECA claimed the “number of games being played throughout the year has already reached an unacceptable level, in particular for national team players”.

Similar criticism has been voiced from Germany, but Infantino’s usual allies are lining up in support of the Swiss-Italian and his World Cup blueprint. The backing is despite the changes to the tournament being unnecessary and largely cosmetic.

Realistically, the World Cup needs no alteration. Yes, an expanded competition gives so-called lesser nations the chance to experience the grandest stage in international football, but the format works perfectly well in its current mould. As the old saying goes, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.

The decision, as most believe, seems to be purely money-motivated. Forget a diminished standard and the potential for manipulation when there is more cash to be had.

Unfortunately, many simply do not see this. Even José Mourinho, the prickly manager of my beloved Manchester United, has come out in favour of the plans. His intervention provides perhaps the most-high profile voice of support in Infantino’s favour.

This, of course, is no surprise. Mourinho was in the FIFA President’s corner during the election campaign and even flew out to Mexico City last May to a FIFA legends team in a one-off friendly at the Azteca Stadium, held before the Football Associations met for the annual Congress.

His backing is in stark contrast to the stance of the ECA, of which Manchester United are a key member.

José Mourinho has voiced his support for the expansion of the World Cup ©Getty Images
José Mourinho has voiced his support for the expansion of the World Cup ©Getty Images

“I’m totally in favour,” the Portuguese said. “As a club manager, if the expansion meant more games, less holidays and less pre-season for players, I would say no.

"But it’s important for critics to analyse and understand that expansion doesn’t mean more matches.

“The expansion means that the World Cup will be even more of an incredible social event. More countries, more investment in different countries in infrastructure, in youth football.

“More nations taking part means more passion, more happiness, more enthusiasm. More countries means more Africans, Asians, Americans together.”

How exactly the tournament is grown is still to be debated. Europe’s growing influence within the governing body is likely to be exerted when FIFA’s Council reconvenes at their HQ next week, with UEFA set to protect their own interests first and foremost by ensuring they benefit with additional places.

“I am a loyal soldier of Europe and we must take care of European interests,” Belgium’s Michel D’Hooghe, a member of the FIFA Council, told The Times.

“Now we have 13 teams and if we go from 32 to 48 we need to know what will be the increase for Europe.”

The Europeans will head to Zurich with a clear agenda in mind - just as the Germans and Austrians did in Gijón all those years ago.