Expanding the World Cup to include 40 teams was not radical enough for FIFA President Gianni Infantino who has announced that he now leaning toward an even bigger expansion to 48.
“I like 48 because it gives a particular flavor, but I’m still really torn,” Infantino said Wednesday after meetings outside Paris.
Why even bother with qualification! Let everyone in. It’s like a line from Oprah. You get a World Cup spot. And you and you!
Infantino proposed expansion of the 2026 World Cup from the current 32-team format was among topics that Infantino discussed during his two days of meetings with officials from about 20 largely French-speaking soccer associations.
“Everyone wants an expansion,” he said. “Some favor 40 teams, others 48.”
The 40-team format that Infantino initially promised when campaigning for the FIFA presidency, which he won in February, would be mathematically clunky. The 48-team proposal would see 16 teams go home after playing just one game in a new opening playoff round. The 16 playoff winners would then join 16 seeded teams to begin a 32-team group stage that follows the current World Cup format, which will still be used in 2018 and 2022.
With 48 teams, there would be 80 matches instead of the current 64 and, Infantino argued, more sustained fervor in more parts of the world.
“Everyone sees that the increase of the participation for the World Cup is really a tool to promote football in more countries,” Infantino said.
Did Infantino not learn anything from watching the Euros this summer, where one win was enough to get you through to the knockout stages, all but making the group stages meaningless?
A decision will be made on whether to expand the tournament on Jan. 9-10 when the FIFA Council meets in Zurich.