FIFA To Expand World Cup, Radically Change Format Starting In 2026

The world’s biggest sporting event will grow even larger in the future.

FIFA announced on its website Tuesday that it has voted to expand the World Cup finals from 32 teams to 48, starting in 2026.

The FIFA Council decided to expand the World Cup by unanimous decision, adding teams to its showcase competition for the first time since 1998.

In the new format, the 48 teams will split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams in each group then will advance to a 32-team knockout phase. The overall number of games will increase from 64 to 80.

FIFA will continue to stage the tournament over 32 days, and no team will play more than seven games, as is the current practice.

The news comes as no surprise to most, as World Cup expansion was one of the key initiatives on which FIFA president Gianni Infantino campaigned before his election in February 2016.

Citing a source close to Infantino, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl explained in December why the FIFA boss wanted to expand the World Cup: “No teams travel for only one game; each confederation has a guaranteed number of qualified countries; and it’s easier to understand for fans, TV and sponsors.”

FIFA hasn’t determined which country will host the 2026 World Cup. The bidding process will culminate in May 2020.

Thumbnail photo via Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport/USA TODAY Sports Images