After the expansion of the 2016 European Championships, the World Cup is all set for a revamp. The FIFA Council has unanimously decided on a 48-team World Cup from 2026 from the 32 teams we have today. 48 teams would see 16 groups of three teams with the top two teams in each group would progress to the knockout rounds.
Ordinarily I would be cynically calling this a money making exercise from the greedy fat cats of FIFA; more teams would mean more games, more fans and greater broadcasting revenues. Adding 16 more teams is rumoured to generate an extra £823m in revenue, which sounds a lot like FIFA chasing more cash. But the football fan in me can’t wait. 48 teams, 80 matches, a tournament 25% longer.
An expanded tournament creates optimism in qualifying; everyone thinks they have a chance. During qualification for Euro 2016, Albania, Iceland, Slovakia and Wales all made it to their first European Championships whilst Northern Ireland won Group F.
Everyone thinks this is a devious plot by FIFA, but, in truth, the Word Cup has always invited more and more countries to play. Originally 16 teams competed which rose to 24 in 1982 and then 32 in 1998.
One of the great fears of an expanded tournament is the addition of so-called weaker teams. Currently 20 of the top 48 nations in the FIFA World rankings did not compete in Russia this summer. There is quality waiting in the wings. So the idea of Moldova or San Marino rocking up at a major tournament aint gonna happen.
In early June 2004, England played Iceland in preparation for the European Championships a few weeks later. England won 6-1. Twelve years later Iceland would knock England out of the Euros to complete their remarkable journey. There are up and coming sides out there, like Iceland, who are desperate to join the party. We need to stop being snobs and let the new guys have a chance.
Football fans are quick to hate the idea but do not see the amazing benefits. 16 more games, means that over 700,000 more fans will get to experience the World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States there in the flesh. The World Cup in 2026 will more teams than ever competing in a longer tournament for us all to enjoy. More World Cup Football? Sign me up.