Two disasters which led FIFA to increase number of teams for World Cup finals

Representational image (Picture source: Reuters)

Of the 103 entrants for the 1978 World Cup, only 16 actually made it to Argentina. This was the same number that FIFA had planned to take part in the 1930 edition, when qualifiers had yet to enter football's lexicon.

It's no surprise that the qualifying phase ahead of the Argentina finals was a messy affair, which led to the first match-based fatality in World Cup qualifying history. Not many were surprised either, when it happened in Africa.

Cameroon vs Congo

In the 1970s, Cameroon were gradually asserted themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The weight of expectation and supporters' high spirits forced them to respond and perform accordingly, though they were up against an equally bullish Congo side who also felt they deserved to qualify for the tournament.

They locked horns in a two-leg knockout fixture, with the first game finishing 2-2 in Brazzaville. It left the encounter finely poised but the second leg in Yaounde on October 31, 1976 was abandoned.

Roger Milla broke the deadlock after just seven minutes, though Congo recovered well to going behind. Goals from Daniel Ebomoa and Jean-Jacques N'Doumba meant they had a slender advantage to protect as the second-half progressed.

However in the 82nd minute, the referee awarded Cameroon a spot-kick. The Congo goalkeeper reacted angrily to the official's decision and personally targeted the referee, which prompted other team-mates to join him.

This was not all. Cameroonian president Ahmadou Ahidjo was watching the game on television and somehow managed to quickly scramble a helicopter and send his paratroopers to the fixture, seeking an immediate response to this incident.

Two people died in the chaos with the referee having no choice but to call the match off. Cameroon claimed their African counterparts started the ruckus, which was true, though they only helped the incident escalate dramatically.

FIFA docked Milla's goal and awarded Congo a 2-0 win, meaning they progressed to the next round. Perhaps fitting though, that this was in vain as they lost against Ivory Coast soon after.

Haiti vs Cuba

Five weeks after the aforementioned incident, five people died during the Haiti vs Cuba fixture. This was another second-round knockout match and one which ended prematurely after Cuba netted an equaliser.

Someone let off a firecracker in the crowd, with a section of supporters mistaking it for gunfire and consequently panicking. The spectators knocked down a soldier, whose gun went off and killed two children. One man jumped to his death while two others were trampled during the incident.

Haiti ultimately won the tie after a play-off, but this was another which proved in vain with Mexico ending their dreams of securing a place in Argentina.

These two incidents had far-reaching effects. Sensing the qualifiers had become too highly volatile, FIFA decided to increase the number of finalists for Spain in 1982 to 24.

FIFA have continued to increase the number of sides that compete in the tournament, changing it from 24 to 32 in 1998. Although the quality and competitive nature across the month-long competition are yet to be effectively answered, you can see that t are doing their utmost to avoid these disasters from reoccuring in future.

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