All Whites to benefit in 48-team World Cup
New Zealand’s chances of being a regular competitor at future football World Cups has received a massive boost.
The World Cup will expand to 48 teams from its current 32, starting with the 2026 edition of football’s showpiece tournament, the game’s governing body Fifa decided on on Tuesday.
While a decision has yet to be made on how qualifying will work, it’s likely Oceania – the federation the All Whites play in – will get one full automatic qualifying spot for World Cup finals from 2026.
At present, the Oceania group winners have to beat the sixthplaced Conmebol (South American) team to make the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Fifa’s six continents should find out by May how many extra places they will each get.
Fifa’s decision-making body, the Fifa Council, also decided that the format would consist of 16 groups of three teams in the group stage – Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s favoured plan.
The World Cup, held every four years, last expanded in 1998, from 24 to 32 teams.
The decision meets Infantino’s election pledge of a bigger and more inclusive World Cup going beyond European and South American teams, which have won all 20 titles.
‘‘We have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,’’ said Infantino, who also promised funding increases for Fifa’s 211 member federations at his election last February.
‘‘No guarantees have been made,’’ Infantino said regarding which continents will benefit from the expansion.
‘‘The only sure thing is that obviously with 48 teams everyone will have a bit more than they have today.’’
New Zealand Football had been expected to support an expanded competition.
Infantino, who replaced the disgraced Sepp Blatter in February, had made World Cup expansion one of his promises during his successful electoral campaign, designed to appeal to the bulk of Fifa’s 211 member associations that rarely or never qualify for World Cups.
Infantino had initially suggested a 40-team tournament but then added another eight to that total in October.
In making the decision, Fifa brushed aside concerns that the expansion would lower the overall standard of the tournament, and make it too long and unwieldy.
Critics, including the powerful European clubs as well as some leading coaches, have said that Fifa is tampering with a winning formula.
Still, Fifa said it expects the standard of football to drop compared to the 32-team format locked in for the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
The ‘‘absolute quality’’ of play, defined by high-ranked teams facing each other most often, is achieved by 32 teams, Fifa acknowledged in a research document sent to members last month.
It made 10,000 tournament simulations to reach that conclusion.