Tuesday morning the FIFA Council voted unanimously in favor of a major change to the structure of the FIFA World Cup, agreeing to expand the event to 48 teams beginning with the 2026 tournament. FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who was elected to the position last February after Sepp Blatter resigned in June 2015, has wanted to expand the World Cup for quite some time and in his manifesto last February stated a desire for a 40-team event.
That desire changed in October, with Infantino stating his desire to expand the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams. Under the original idea for this, Infantino wanted to stage one knockout round that would eliminate 16 teams, with the tournament carrying on as it normally would under the current 32-team format from that point forward. The 16 winners of those preliminary matches would join the 16 teams that qualified directly into the group stage.
Under the approved expansion, there will be 16 groups of three teams with the top two finishers in each group advancing to a 32-team knockout stage. Teams that reach the World Cup Final and third-place matches would play the same number of matches (seven) they they would under the current format. According to the Associated Press, the expansion is expected to net FIFA an additional $640 million in revenue.
The location of the 2026 FIFA World Cup will not be determined until May 2020. Last May the decision was made to postpone the process for three years due to the corruption scandal that engulfed FIFA in 2015. Both Blatter and former UEFA President Michel Platini resigned from their respective posts (both were also issued eight-year bans from the sport by FIFA’s Ethics Committee), and former FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke was given a 12-year ban.
The FIFA World Cup last expanded in 1998, with the tournament growing from 24 to 32 teams. There’s been no announcement as to how many qualifying spots each confederation will receive for the 48-team FIFA World Cup.