World Cup may have 48 teams
geneva» FIFA detailed how it could expand the men’s World Cup in a 64page analysis of five options for the future of its signature tournament.
The document was sent this week to FIFA Council members who on Jan. 10 likely will decide the shape of the 2026 World Cup.
Though retaining the 32team format is on the table, FIFA and president Gianni Infantino are clearly committed to change.
Infantino believes a 48or 40-team tournament would increase World Cup fervor in relatively new markets — many of whom voted for him February.
“The FIFA World Cup as a pull factor for development, offering a reward to increased investment and focus on football development locally, is significant,” the research document said.
More teams and more matches also mean higher commercial sales to help FIFA fund itself and its 211 member federations.
Here are some of FIFA’s arguments for and against the five options:
• 48 teams — 16 groups of three.
This is the preferred option, announced by Infantino just this month.
The 16x3 format “offers the certainty of at least two matches per team, avoids any post-playoff letdown periods and, important, achieves all of this while retaining the authenticity of the current 32-team format by staying true to the traditional, purist football knockout format,” the document said.
• 48 teams — opening 32team playoff round.
Infantino’s big idea of three months ago to get to 48 teams has probably found too much opposition to succeed.
It also has 80 matches, plus a round of 32 of undoubted high drama— just not where teams, fans and broadcasters want it.
The opening playoff round — of 32 teams playing a “one-and-done” match to join 16 seeded teams — has been viewed as not part of the real World Cup.
•40 teams — 10 groups of four.
Numbers don’t add up.
Fewer matches, at 76, and a lop-sided bracket where only six of the 10 group runners-up would advance to a round of 32.
“Any expanded format would present some issues which need to be addressed regarding sporting balance,” FIFA said, with this flawed format in mind.
• 40 teams — eight groups of five. The flabbiest option. The most matches, 88, but too few of them would be meaningful.
In the 10,000 tournament simulations FIFA performed, it scored worst in terms of the pure quality of well-matched good teams playing against each other.
“Both 48-team formats outperform the 40-team formats, with the 40-team (8x5) clearly the weakest format in this respect,” FIFA said. • 32 teams. If not perfect, certainly a proven and popular success since it was introduced at the 1998 World Cup in France.
The 64-match bracket is perfect: Two teams advance from each group into a round of 16.