FIFA President Gianni Infantino has hinted that the number of countries competing at the World Cup could be increased from 32 teams to 48 teams from 2026.
Infantino revealed discussions over expanding the tournament could be taken at a FIFA council in January 2017. The 48-year-old had earlier suggested allowing 40 nations to compete, but that number could now increase by 8.
The plan if and when actualized, would see the introduction of a preliminary knockout round comprised of 32 teams, with the winners of the 16 ties progressing to the group stage – a move that would see the 16 losers head home after just one game.
Those who progress would be joined by 16 seeded countries – given a bye into the next stage of the competition – to be split into the traditional 8 groups of four, with the tournament reverting to the current system from that stage onwards.
“These are ideas to find the best solution. We will debate them this month and we will decide everything by 2017.
“It means we continue with a normal World Cup for 32 teams, but 48 teams go to the party.
“Fifa’s idea is to develop football in the whole world. The World Cup is the biggest event there is. It’s more than a competition, it’s a social event.”
Infantino’s proposition promises a better opportunity for smaller nations within FIFA’s 211 membership to compete at their first World Cup, who have felt at a disadvantage over qualifying for the biggest tournament on the world stage.
However, the proposal is also likely to be opposed by many others, with Germany head coach Joachim Low already voicing his displeasure over the plans.
Low already opposed the expansion of the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams, and claims that players will suffer worse burnout if the World Cup seems a similar overhaul.
“I don’t think its a good idea to dilute the sporting value. We have to be aware that in the long-run the quality will suffer. We should not overdo it.”