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On Tuesday the FIFA council voted unanimously in favor of a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards as president Gianni Infantino got his wish.
The proposal is something which was a key part of his mandate when the Italian official won the FIFA presidential election in February 2016 as he aims to give smaller nations across the soccer world a chance to compete on the biggest stage.
Now, Infantino has his wish.
More details are emerging all the time from the FIFA council meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, but it has been confirmed that there will be 16 groups with consist of three teams each and the top two teams from each group will go through to a straight Round of 32 knockout.
That means there will be an increase from 64 to 80 games, which is an extra 16 games, and crucially there will still be just seven games for each team to play if they go all the way and become world champs. The tournament itself
The main difference is that Infantino and the council wanted to create more knockout games at the tournament and that’s now been confirmed with just two group games per team, and an extra round of straight-knockout games now rubber-stamped.
Off the back of UEFA expanding the European Championships to 24 teams for the first time at EURO 2016, there’s been plenty of opposition to this plan from FIFA as many say the quality of the tournament will suffer. That said, many nations around the world from smaller confederations will now see this as a great opportunity to reach the World Cup for the first time and it will freshen things up. There will be an extra four teams from both Africa and Asia, while an extra three teams from Europe will also make the tournament.
In truth, the more teams and games there are in the World Cup the more money FIFA will make.
Infantino’s argument is that the World Cup has expanded from 12 teams to 16 in 1966 and then to 24 teas in 1982 and then to the current 32-team format in 1998. With the popularity of the game continuing to grow across the globe, he believes now is the right time to expand the tournament.
The United States of America is the favorite to host the 2026 World Cup, the first with 48 teams, with Canada and Mexico both mooted as potential co-hosts with the U.S. if they don’t host it alone.