Starting in 2026, the World Cup will be drastically different. The FIFA Council unanimously approved an expansion to 48 teams that had been campaigned for by FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Here’s everything you need to know.
How will this format work?
On Monday, it had been reported by The Associated Press that the ruling council was expected to approve the format change. There will now be 16 groups with three teams each.
From each group, two teams will advance to a 32-team knockout stage. FIFA said the plans for the new style won’t change the overall number of rest days and guarantee a maximum of seven matches for teams reaching the final, with the tournament lasting 32 days.
“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. Over the course of its next meetings, the FIFA Council is set to discuss further details regarding the competition, including the slot allocation per confederation.”
Is expansion common?
The format modification is the first since the 1998 World Cup, where it changed to 32 teams from 24. The 2026 World Cup, where we will see this change, currently sees the United States as the favorite to host.
Where will spots go and why do it?
There were no details released as to the number of additional spots each confederation would get, but the expectation is at least two for each. Keep in mind that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will still be played with 32 teams.
As for why, it’s simple — money. As noted on Monday, the change could bring in an additional $640 million.
Is this good news or bad?
This overall decision is concerning for some who feel that the current 32-team format is perfect. The addition of teams could water down the cup and also make World Cup Qualifying less important at certain stages. We’ll see exactly how it will impact both, when information about the additional spots become available.