World Cup: Fifa to study expansion to 40 or 48 teams

Germany celebrate winning 2014 World Cup

Germany won the World Cup in 2014, beating Argentina in the final

The 2026 World Cup could involve 40 or 48 nations after Fifa agreed to study options to expand the tournament from its 32-team format in greater detail.

The proposals will be made at the football world governing body’s next meeting on 9 January 2017.

“The feeling amongst the council is rather positive towards expansion,” said Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

The 2026 host has not yet been chosen, while the 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.

Infantino took charge of Fifa in February and one of his election promises being to increase the number of teams at the World Cup finals to 40.

However, earlier this month the 46-year-old Italian proposed upping that to 48 countries, with 32 taking part in a preliminary knockout round in the host country and the winners joining 16 seeded teams in the group stages.

There are four options for the 2026 tournament:

  • Keep the existing 32-team structure;
  • Expand to 40 teams (eight groups of five);
  • Expand to 40 teams (10 groups of four);
  • Expand to 48 teams (16 seeds joined by 32 winners of a play-off round).

Critics have expressed concerns over potentially weakening the quality of football at the finals.

Former England striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker said Fifa presidents should “do the right things for the game rather than stuff to get re-elected”.

He added on social media: “Come on Mr Infantino! You have a mandate to look after football’s best interests, not your own. Do not destroy the World Cup! Please.”

But speaking at a Fifa Council meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, Infantino said: “When a team qualifies for the tournament the whole country is in football euphoria.

“More youngsters want to play the game, companies want to get involved in sponsorship and the benefits to football as a whole are immense.

“In a 48-team format, the quality would be higher because the 32 teams would have a play-off. The quality would improve and not decrease in any way.”

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