The FIFA Council has unanimously decided in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup to a 48-team competition as of the 2026 edition. World football’s supervisory and strategic body held its third meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 9 and 10 January, and decided on a new tournament format with the 48 national teams split into 16 groups of three.
The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage.
The new 48-team competition format has been drawn up in such a way that there is no reduction in the overall number of rest days and a guaranteed maximum of seven matches for the teams reaching the final, while the current 32-day tournament duration is kept, so as not to increase the length of time for which clubs have to release their players.
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.
At its most recent meeting in October 2016, the FIFA Council had already discussed the scenarios to expand the competition format of the FIFA World Cup. By then, it had also defined a set of principles for countries to bid for the right to host the 2026 edition – a process that is currently scheduled to culminate in May 2020.
European places at the competition will likely rise from 13 to 16. Africa and Asia could have as many as nine teams each. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil they had five and four teams respectively. FIFA could decide by May how many entries each continent has.
The other major decision regarding 2026 – who will host the event – is not scheduled for consideration until 2020 with a bid featuring the United States, either on its own or in conjunction with one or both of Canada and Mexico, an early favourite.