World Cup Will Allow Five Substitutes and Bigger Rosters

DOHA, Qatar – The use of extra substitutes in matches, a longstanding soccer tradition brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, was formally written into the rules of the sport on Monday, just five months before this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Under the revision to soccer’s purposely brief rulebook, the rules of the game, approved by its rule-making body, the International Football Association Board, coaches at this year’s tournament – and any other competition – will be allowed to use as many as five. Substitutes per game instead of three.

The expansion has already been in place on a temporary basis, introduced in 2020 and framed as an effort to protect physical and mental health players. But it has been widely adopted in domestic leagues around the world and by top competitions like the Champions League, and is praised by coaches who welcome the tactical flexibility if offered. Chelsea Coach Thomas Tuchel, for example, called the change “brilliant” for big teams and small ones alike.

Making it permanent sets the stage for another change: FIFA can now expand rosters for the tournament, to 26 players instead of the former limit of 23.

Both of Monday’s decisions mean that for the third straight cycle, the World Cup will kick off with a major rules change: Goal-line technology made its debut at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and the replay system was known as a video-assistant review. Was approved in time for the 2018 tournament in Russia.

The use of five substitutes was approved by IFAB as a temporary measure in 2020. At this time, leagues were rushing back into a compressed schedule of matches – sometimes in the heat of the midsummer, and without their customary preseasons – as they scrambled to make up. games and fulfill multimillion-dollar television contracts.

But the temporary measure has been retained in many of the world’s top leagues, and like their club colleagues, national team coaches – welcoming the flexibility and options of additional subs and larger rosters in the biggest soccer calendar – are expected to Agree with the change being made permanent.

Club coaches may favor it, too, especially if it eases their strain on top players in even modest ways: To accommodate the scorching summer heat in Qatar, this year’s World Cup was moved to the winter months, meaning it would arrive in the midst Of most club seasons, and put on an elite player already weary from soccer’s nearly nonstop schedule since the game’s pandemic pause in 2020.

Added substitutes are now common from Europe to leagues like Major League Soccer in the United States. The Premier League – which used to be five subs and then reverted to three subs the past two seasons – will make a change back to five starts with its coming season.

Expanded rosters are also not new. Europe’s governing body allowed teams to name 26-player rosters for last summer’s European Championship, and South American officials approved 28-man teams for last summer’s Copa América in Brazil. In those cases, coaches were still allowed to name only 23 players for their active rosters for each game. But the decision to allow gameday rosters to include 15 subs instead of 12 will give coaches wiggle room at the time when the coronavirus could still decimate a team in a matter of days.

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