International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) President Gianni Infantino gestures while speaking during a press briefing closing a meeting of the FIFA executive council on January 10, 2017 at FIFA headquarters in Zurich. FIFA’s ruling council on January 10, 2017 unanimously approved an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2026.
/ AFP PHOTO / Michael BUHOLZER
FIFA’s decision Tuesday to expand the World Cup to 48 teams in 2026 will allow more countries to “dream” of qualifying for the globe’s top sporting event, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said.
“We have to shape the World Cup of the 21st Century… football is more than Europe and South America,” Infantino told reporters. With the new format, “many more countries will have the chance to dream.”
The 2026 tournament will include 16 groups of three teams.
Crucially, it will be played over the same time period as the current 32-team format.
Infantino insisted this was vital as there was reluctance to any prolongation of the tournament.
The new format “brings benefits without negatives,” he said.
“Every match will be decisive,” he added, noting that qualifying round matches where the result is effectively meaningless will be eliminated in 2026 and beyond.
No decision was made on how the 16 extra places would be allocated among football’s regional confederations, but “everyone will get more” in the new system, the FIFA chief further said.