FIFA has voted unanimously to expand the World Cup to a 48-team tournament in 2026.
The new format, which will see the finals comprising 16 groups of three teams before a 32-team knockout stage, was voted for unanimously by the FIFA Council at a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday. President Gianni Infantino had laid out plans for such an expansion as part of his campaign for the top job at world football’s governing body last year.
The 37 Council members were asked to select their favorite from five proposals: two involving a 48-team set-up, two 40-team tournaments, and the current 32-team format. Infantino’s proposal had won backing from a number of officials, including Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick, who said on Monday that “most of Africa is excited about it”.
World Cup-winners Diego Maradona and Carles Puyol have also spoken in favour of the 48-team format, as has Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who believes it could offer better protection to players. DFB president Reinhard Grindel had voiced his concerns over the proposal, while the influential European Club Association, which represents the interests of the major sides across the continent, opposed the changes.
“In the interest of the fans and the players, we urge FIFA not to increase the number of World Cup participants,” ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “Politics and commerce should not be the exclusive priority in football.”
English Football Association chief Martin Glenn also stated before the vote that he would prefer the smaller format to remain. The changed format will see 48 teams split into 16 groups of three teams, with the top two in each progressing to a round-of-32 knockout stage.