FIFA approves expansion to 48 teams for 2026 World Cup

The Associated Press

ZURICH — FIFA will expand the World Cup to 48 teams, adding 16 extra nations to the 2026 tournament that is likely to be held in North America.

President Gianni Infantino’s favored plan — for 16 three-team groups with the top two advancing to a round of 32 — was unanimously approved Tuesday by the FIFA Council.

It meets Infantino’s election pledge of a bigger and more inclusive World Cup going beyond European and South American teams, which have won all 20 titles.

“We have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,” said Infantino, who also promised funding increases for FIFA’s 211 member federations at his election last February.

UEFA wants 16 European teams at the tournament, which is strongly favored to be played in North America — European and Asian countries are blocked by a FIFA rule excluding continents which hosted either of the two previous tournaments (Russia will host next year and Qatar in 2022). The CONCACAF region has not hosted the World Cup since the 1994 tournament in the United States.

American, Canadian and Mexican soccer leaders have had informal talks about a co-hosting bid.

FIFA members are scheduled to pick the host in May 2020.

Africa and Asia could be winners in a bigger World Cup with up to nine places each. They had only five and four teams, respectively, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The three-team groups will replace the usual groups of four to create simple progress to a knockout bracket. However, it leaves one team idle for final group games and could risk collusion between the other two teams.

FIFA said it could guard against result-rigging by introducing penalty shootouts after group games that end in draws. Infantino said a decision could wait until 2024 to agree on competition rules.