Zurich : FIFA’s ruling council yesterday unanimously approved an expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams in 2026, in a major coup for the body’s president Gianni Infantino.
In a bid to widen the game’s global appeal and enrich its coffers, the FIFA panel endorsed a format with 16 groups of three nations, a tweet from FIFA’s account said.
The move represents the first major change to the World Cup format since the tournament was boosted from 24 to 32 teams for the 1998 tournament in France. The proposal faced tough criticism in some of football’s key camps.
But Infantino, who took charge of scandal-tainted FIFA 11 months ago had in recent weeks voiced confidence that his flagship project would be approved.
Among those who seemed convinced by that argument was Argentine football legend Diego Maradona, who said a 48-team format “will give more possibilities to countries that have never reached that level of competition”.
And a confidential FIFA report seen by AFP projects a 48-team tournament would bring a cash boost of $640 million (605m euros) above projected revenues for next year’s finals in Russia. The format approved envisages 80 matches -- 16 more than the current set up -- but crucially will still be played over the same 32 days. Two teams from each group will advance to a 32-nation knock-out round. The World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 1982 in Spain before moving to its current 32-team version at France 1998. (AFP)
Former Argentine football player Diego Maradona plays the ball as he arrives for The Best FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony in Zurich.