FIFA Set To Approve Expansion To 48 Teams For 2026 World Cup
World football governing body, The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will today vote on plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026, in line with the vision of president Gianni Infantino.
The Swiss, who claims to have “overwhelming” support for the plan to increase the number of teams at the finals from 32, favours 16 groups of three countries, with the top two progressing to the knockout rounds.
If successful, it would lead to the first World Cup expansion since 1998.
There are five options world football’s governing body will consider.
Increasing the number of teams at the World Cup was one of Infantino’s manifesto pledges last year, although his original idea was to follow predecessor Sepp Blatter’s preference for 40 teams.
But the two 40-team formats proposed by FIFA’s experts – eight groups of five or 10 groups of four, both followed by a 16-team knock-out – have failed to attract much support for a variety of reasons.
This led Infantino to leap to 48 teams, with his first idea being a one-off play-off between 32 teams to decide who should join 16 seeded teams in the current eight-groups-of-four format.
That idea, however, was also panned, as it stretched the tournament beyond its current 32 days and meant 16 teams would be travelling to an event for just one match.
Infantino appears to have got it right, though, with his fourth attempt – 16 groups of three, followed by a 32-team knock-out.
This increases the number of games from 64 to 80 but the tournament stays at 32 days, with the semi-finalists playing seven games (including the third-place play-off), which is the same number as now.
The council meeting, which starts at FIFA’s headquarters at 0800GMT, will actually have all four of the proposed expansion ideas on the table, as well as leaving the tournament at 32 teams, but nobody in Zurich is expecting anything other than strong support for the 16-groups-of-three plan.
Infantino has repeatedly said his main motivation for doing this is to give more nations a chance of experiencing the joy of a World Cup, which will bolster international football in developed markets and help its growth in new ones.
As evidence of international football’s inspirational qualities, Infantino has pointed to Costa Rica’s success in 2014 and the Euro 2016 runs by Iceland and Wales.