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Home » Sport » Football

FIFA expands World Cup

The FIFA Council has rubber-stamped plans to expand the World Cup in 2026 to 48 teams, adding 16 nations.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino's revamp plan received unanimous backing at a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday.

Delegates were asked to vote on four proposals to change the existing format or stick with the current format of 32 teams.

This is the first time since the 1998 World Cup that changes have been made to the makeup of the tournament, with the 2026 competition set to feature 16 groups of three.

How will it work?

The addition of 16 more teams will mean groups are reduced from four to three sides, with swifter progression to the knockout stages.

Each nation will play the others in its group once, with the top two progressing to an enlarged knockout round comprising 32 teams. The number of games will rise from 64 to 80 but the competition will remain at 32 days in length.

It also guarantees each team will have at least two matches -- Infantino's initial plan envisaged a playoff round before the main group stage to eliminate 16 teams.

Currently, the World Cup involves eight groups of four, with the top two going through the last 16 knockout round.

FIFA said: "The decision was taken following a thorough analysis, based on a report that included four different format options.

"The study took into account such factors as sporting balance, competition quality, impact on football development, infrastructure, projections on financial position and the consequences for event delivery."

It added that the make up of the extra 16 slots would be discussed at further FIFA Council meetings.


Why expand?

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has been behind the move, saying the World Cup has to be "more inclusive".

Speaking at a sports conference in Dubai in December, Infantino said expansion would also benefit "the development of football all over the world".

He added: "There is nothing bigger in terms of boosting football in a country than participating in a World Cup."

Despite saying "the decision should not just be financially driven", Infantino did highlight the possible financial upsides.

According to Fifa's own research, revenue is predicted to increase to £5.29bn for a 48-team tournament, giving a potential profit rise of £521m.


Who will it benefit?

The smaller nations and those on the fringes of qualification for one of the world's showpiece sporting occasions.

FIFA said the motion was carried "unanimously," while Infantino had spoken at a conference in Dubai last month of confederations being "overwhelmingly" in favor.

Federations from Africa and Asia are especially keen, as they make up 110 of FIFA's 211 members, but are traditionally under represented at the World Cup.

The allocation of the new slots will be discussed after the plans have been ratified by FIFA's congress.

Though Infantino insisted it wasn't a financial decision, FIFA estimates an extra $1 billion in revenue will be generated by an enlarged tournament.


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