FIFA announce expanded World Cup of 48 teams for 2026

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has got his way on expanding the World Cup to 48 teams in time for the 2026 tournament.

The FIFA Council ratified the decision, which will mean there will be 16 groups consisting of three teams in the 2026 World Cup.

The first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 saw just 13 teams compete in 18 matches.

A vote to expand world football's premier event by 16 teams is second on the agenda at Tuesday's meeting of the FIFA Council in Zurich, with one insider telling Press Association Sport it is a "fait accompli".

The vote result will be a major boost to Infantino's chances of re-election in 2019.

  • How have we arrived at this proposed format change?

FIFA president Gianni Infantino is expected to get his way and expand the World Cup to 48 teams. Credit: AP

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.

  • Why expand the competition?

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.

The president has said money should not be a reason for doing this, but research suggests a 48-team World Cup could bring in £800million more in broadcasting, commercial and match-day revenue than the 2018 World Cup in Russia, taking total profits to nearly £3.5billion.

  • That sounds like a lot more football, is it?

Germany's Benedikt Howedes and Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain battle for the ball. Credit: PA

Yes and no. It will mean the total number of games increases from 64 to 80 but most teams will play no more than three and the four semi-finalists will play no more than seven - the same as now.

That last point is significant as the leading European clubs have opposed any move to increase the number of games the top nations play.

FIFA is also adamant this can be done in 32 days, the same duration as the current format, another major concern for the clubs.

  • What about the quality?

Iceland celebrate beating England at Euro 2016. Credit: PA

This is an issue raised by the German FA, currently the only association to have spoken out against Infantino's plan, and even FIFA's internal research on the formats admits the status quo is the best way to guarantee as many of the world's best teams play each other at the finals.

But Infantino has repeatedly talked up Costa Rica's besting of England, Italy and Uruguay in 2014, and the exploits of Iceland and Wales at Euro 2016, as examples of underdogs overcoming their perceived superiors.

  • Will these extra places help Scotland qualify?

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan on the sidelines at Wembley. Credit: PA

That is one of the many details the council will not decide on Tuesday, as the fight over these possible 16 extra slots is only just starting between the six confederations.

Europe currently gets 13 places, with hosts Russia making it 14 next time around.

But with the main beneficiaries expected to be the relatively under-represented African and Asian confederations, UEFA will be fighting hard to claim at least three of the new places.

Whether that will be enough to guarantee a home nation involvement at a 48-team World Cup is anybody's guess.