FIFA votes to expand World Cup to 48 teams
The FIFA Council voted unanimously on the step at a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, on Tuesday.
The new format – which sees the first tournament expansion since 1998 – will increase the number of teams at the finals from the current 32, and will involve an initial stage of 16 groups consisting of three teams. The top two in each group will then progress to a 32-team knockout stage.
It means the World Cup Finals will see a total of 80 matches played, up from the current 64. The format will not mean extra games for the tournament winners, however, as they will still play seven matches in total.
The tournament will still be played over the course of a maximum of 32 days, due to pressure to ensure the expanded format did not infringe on domestic leagues.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino had strongly backed the move, and made it part of his campaign for the presidency last year.
He has highlighted the perceived benefits the new format will bring to the development of football across the world, as well as the financial boost from extra participation and televised games.
Some had opposed the idea, with German FA President Reinhard Grindel last week saying that it held “considerable weaknesses” and that he was “fundamentally convinced that the tried-and-tested model of 32 participating nations should be held,” the Guardian reported.
In the end, however, Infantino’s preference for the new 16-group, 48-team format prevailed in the vote on Tuesday.
The next FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia in 2018, with the 2022 finals heading to Qatar.
The 2026 host is yet to be announced, and a final decision is expected in 2020. The United States is among the favorites to win the bid.