Think of international football and immediately South America and Europe come to mind or perhaps more specifically Brazil and Argentina, Germany and Italy. These have been the heavyweights along with Uruguay, France, the Netherlands and England. But over the last few World Cup tournaments there has been a perceptible change in the script.

The heavyweights may still emerge the winners but the challenge from African and Asian teams is becoming more intense and this year's competition at Qatar has proved this emphatically. FIFA's far-sighted move to raise the participating teams from 16 to 32 has resulted in this welcome change in the scenario leading to improved standards the worldHighlight: World Cup 2026 ia slated to have 48 teams, Asia and Africa will get more slots

And with World Cup 2026 slated to have 48 teams Asia and Africa will get more slots not to forget the challenge from USA, Canada and Australia. Indeed the World Cup will truly become the world's cup. As of now the World Cup has a major European skew, it gets 13 slots compared to four or five for Asia and Africa.

True Europe may be the financial engine of the footballing world and boasts top-notch leagues. But as recent events have shown both performance and money are diffusing to Asia and Africa and four years from now there is little doubt that teams from these continents will make their presence felt even more emphatically.

A quick glance at the 16 pre-quarter finalists will convey the metamorphosis that is taking place in international football. There are just two nations from South America in Brazil and Argentina and eight from Europe in France, England, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Croatia and Poland. Two – Japan and Korea are from Asia and two – Morocco and Senegal – are from Africa. Australia and USA make up the 16.

Even more revealing will be the mention of the teams that did not make the knockout rounds – four-time World Cup winners Germany, two-time winners Uruguay, Ecuador, Mexico, Denmark and Belgium, ranked second only to Brazil in the FIFA rankings.

Senegal qualifying for the round of 16 at the expense of Ecuador, Croatia pushing Belgium to third place, South Korea edging out Uruguay were the major talking points of the group stage besides the upsets – Cameroon beating Brazil, Saudi Arabia defeating Argentina, Tunisia downing defending champions France, Morocco shocking Belgium and Japan getting the better of both Germany and Spain.

Indeed it is now two World Cup competitions in a row that Germany have exited at the group stage. And to think that Italy has not even qualified for the World Cup on the last two occasions. Germany was clearly the biggest casualty of the tournament. They entered the World Cup as one of the favourites but fell to a surprising 2-1 defeat to Japan in their opening game.

Then having drawn with Spain in their second game they needed to beat Costa Rica in their final match and for Spain to beat Japan – reckoned to be a realistic scenario. However Japan came from behind to beat the 2010 winners meaning that Germany's 4-2 win over Costa Rica was of no avail.

Belgium was the second big casualty. Though not one of the favourites to win the trophy few would have bargained for such an early exit for a team enjoying such a high ranking. They were not exactly in a tough group with Croatia, Canada and Morocco being the other three sides.

But they could only manage a victory over Canada and a 0-2 loss to group toppers Morocco put them under tremendous pressure and they were sent packing after a goalless draw with Croatia. Morocco in fact became the first African team to top a World Cup group stage for 24 years on their way to entering the last 16 after 36 years.

A third major casualty was Denmark. The 10th ranked side by FIFA was also not in a tough group with France, Australia and Tunisia being the other teams. They were predicted to take the second spot after France. But an expected loss to France and a totally unexpected loss to Australia saw the Euro 2020 semifinalists in the unfamiliar bottom slot in the group.

The most exciting group was group E where all the four teams Japan, Spain, Germany and Costa Rica had a chance of qualifying when the final round of matches began. Ultimately Japan surprisingly topped the group after coming from behind to defeat Spain.

Both teams, however, made it to the round of 16 thanks also to Germany getting the better of Costa Rica with both these teams too in the hunt. In fact with both matches on at the same time the equation kept changing several times before Japan and Spain made the grade.

Normally the round of 16 that is a knock out separates the men from the boys and it is at this stage the favourites start asserting themselves. But with the gap narrowing one would not be surprised if some of the less fancied sides pull off more upsets on their way to the last eight, and beyond.