After previously talking about expanding the World Cup to 40 teams, Fifa president Gianni Infantino, has gone a step further and spoken about expanding the competition to 48 countries from 2026.
The contentious, vote-appealing proposal to expand the competition to 40 teams was part of Infantino’s manifesto when he was elected earlier this year.
However, the Swiss has now gone even further and suggested that the tournament could be increased to 48 teams, 16 of which would go home after playing just one match.
The idea, which would mean almost a quarter of Fifa’s 211 members qualifying for its most prestigious tournament, will no doubt prove popular outside Europe, where countries have long felt at a disadvantage when it comes to World Cup places.
Infantino, speaking during an event at Bogota’s Sergio Aboleda university, said a final decision on the plan would be taken by the newly expanded Fifa Council in January.
“These are ideas to find the best solution. We will debate them this month and we will decide everything by 2017,” said Infantino. “They are ideas which we put forward to see which one is the best.”
The Swiss-Italian, perhaps with an eye on his electoral constituency, said he would back a 48-team tournament.
The proposal would involve a preliminary knockout round involving 32 teams played in the host country, with 16 winners reaching the group stage. Another 16 seeded teams would get a bye into the group stage.
The idea of expanding the finals to 40 teams has not been welcomed by those who fear it will dilute the quality of the finals.
Joachim Löw, the Germany coach, said last weekend that he opposed plans to expand the tournament.
“I don’t think its a good idea to dilute the sporting value,” the 2014-World Cup-winning coach told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. Löw added that he had “an absolute understanding for the smaller nations who, thanks to this, could take their place on the big stage”.
“We must be clear that, in the long term, the quality suffers. We must not overdo it.”
The World Cup was expanded from 16 teams to an unwieldy 24 in 1982 and again to 32 in 1994. An expansion to 40 presents a number of logistical issues, not least how the expanded number can be reduced for the knockout stages.