The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be the last edition of the tournament in which you will see 32 teams compete.
The world football body’s governing council unanimously decided to increase the number of teams to 48, starting from the 2026 edition onwards. This mammoth expansion of the tournament is expected to open the spectacle to newer teams.
However, critics feel that it will dilute the tournament’s overall quality.
While expansion of the tournament is nothing new, this scale of expansion is unprecedented. The number of teams was raised from 16 to 24 in 1982. And it was in 1998 that the competition was played in a 32-team format for the first time.
FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino had pressed for the change when he ran for presidency last year as a way to invigorate the event and to include more countries.
The tournament is expected to give more chances for countries from Africa and Asia to make a mark and also provide the tournament with an additional $1bn financial windfall.
But critics feel that the tournament’s quality will be diminished, with players getting exhausted towards the later stages.
It is understood that the 48 teams will be placed into 16 three-team groups for the first stage, with the top two teams from each group advancing to a 32-team knockout round.
The 48-team, 16-group format will have a total of 80 games, up from 64. But the champion will still play only seven matches.
It is as yet undecided how the 48 slots will be allocated among football’s six continental confederations.