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SBD Global/January 11, 2017/International Football

FIFA To Expand World Cup From 32 To 48 Teams, Starting With 2026 Edition

FIFA voted unanimously in favor of expanding the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, "with the changes set to be introduced" at the '26 tournament after being approved at a FIFA Council meeting in Zurich, according to Jack de Menezes of the London INDEPENDENT. The FIFA Council confirmed on Tuesday morning that it had "unanimously voted" in favor of the new format, which will involve 16 groups of three teams that sees the top two qualify for a knockout round of 32. The 211 member associates "had five available options to choose from," with two 40-team plans, two 48-team plans and the current 32-team model, and "have chosen to go with the 48-team option that will see 16 extra qualification spots created for the 2026 World Cup," which is likely to be held in North America. Only "the third-place nations will be eliminated in the group stage under the new plans," as opposed to the current system that sees two sides from each group sent home. The plans have been implemented by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, with the new format "expected to generate" around $1B extra for the int'l governing body from the World Cup alone (INDEPENDENT, 1/10).

ECA SPEAKS OUT: In London, Ahmed & McClean reported the plan "had been expected to meet stiff opposition." UEFA had "previously objected to any dilution of its large presence at the World Cup." But after weeks of talks, Infantino "appears to have carved out a solution to suit most parties." He said, "Sixteen more countries, some of which will never have dreamt of participating in a World Cup, will have the chance to participate." On Tuesday, the European Club Association, which represents the continent’s largest club teams, "came out against any expansion over concern it would increase the workload for players." The ECA said in a statement, "We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives." Though the number of matches played would rise from 64 to 80, "no team would play more than seven matches and the tournament would be completed over the same period of time as the current 32-team, month-long version" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 1/10). REUTERS' Brian Homewood reported "another worry" with the new format is that there could be a number of matches at the end of the group stage where both teams "know exactly which result will send them into the next stage." The qualifying competition, meanwhile, "is likely to become a mere formality for many of the strongest teams" (REUTERS, 1/10).

'MONEY GRAB': The BBC reported New FIFA Now, a campaign group that claims that FIFA needs to reform, labeled the expansion "a money grab and power grab." The group said in a statement, "It will dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans. It will not help development of the game or provide improved competitive opportunities for lower-ranked nations. Instead, it will make a mockery of the qualification process for most confederations" (BBC, 1/10). In London, David Conn reported FIFA’s FAs, particularly in Africa and Asia, have historically been in favor of the tournament’s expansion, which Infantino said will "give them all more places in the finals." Precise numbers "are yet to be decided, as are some of the format’s details, including whether drawn first-round group matches could all be decided on penalties." The host for the '26 tournament is "due to be considered" in '20, with a bid featuring the U.S., either "on its own or in conjunction with one or both of Canada and Mexico," the "overwhelming" favorite. Infantino "declined to respond" to reports immediately after FIFA's announcement that La Liga, which claimed it was not consulted at all, "is considering a lawsuit" (GUARDIAN, 1/10).

TEBAS 'VERY ANGRY': In Madrid, Diego Picó reported issues over FIFA's plans to expand the World Cup will be taken to court by La Liga with league President Javier Tebas "furious with the decision." Tebas: "Infantino behaves like [former FIFA president] Blatter. He also made decisions alone without consulting anyone about them and I'm very angry. It is easy to expand this competition without having to pay the players. The football industry is maintained thanks to clubs and leagues, not FIFA" (MARCA, 1/10).

MORE TO DISCUSS: SKY SPORTS reported the FA stressed FIFA "must take into account the wishes of players, supporters and leagues" before formalizing plans for a "new-look" World Cup. The FA said, "Following today's FIFA Council decision, we will work with UEFA, FIFA and the other European associations to understand how the 48-team FIFA World Cup will work. The priority has to be consideration of the potential impact on fans, players, teams and leagues, and also recognition of the importance of sporting integrity and commercial viability" (SKY SPORTS, 1/10).'s Stephan Uersfeld reported German FA (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel said that he is "not happy" after the FIFA Council "rubber-stamped" plans. Grindel said that FIFA should not forget about football's "important core market" in Europe. He added, "I am not happy with this decision, and most of all I would have wished that all important questions regarding organization had been completely solved. But we now have to accept the unanimous decision and look ahead" (, 1/10).

'POSITIVE STEP': The BBC reported Scottish FA CEO Stewart Regan said that expanding the World Cup to 48 teams is a "positive step." Regan: "We believe this is a positive step, particularly for the smaller nations. Wales, Iceland and Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 showed the impact smaller nations can make" (BBC, 1/10).
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