FIFA president officially backs an expanded 48-team World Cup with new format

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has long spoken of his desire to expand the World Cup beyond its current 32 teams. Now he has officially thrown his support by a new size and format: 48 teams in 16 groups of three.

Infantino had advocated for an expanded World Cup while he was still UEFA president. Soon after being elected FIFA president, he continued his campaign to expand the tournament, making it clear that it was a priority for him.

Originally, Infantino floated the idea of a 48-team World Cup where the top 16 teams would get byes and the remaining teams would play in play-offs to get into the group stage, then the tournament would proceed with a 32-team group stage just like it does now. One of the concerns with that is 16 teams would make the World Cup, travel all the way to the tournament and be done after just one match.

By putting the 48 teams into 16 groups of three, every team would be guaranteed at least two matches. Infantino did not clarify if his plan would see only the first place teams advance to a 16-team knockout stage or if the group stage would eliminate one team per group, with the top two teams advancing to a 32-team knockout stage.

Just because Infantino has thrown his support behind a plan does not mean that it will be adopted. The FIFA Council still has to hear and deliberate over expansion then, if they decide to expand, they have to choose how many times to expand by. There have been proposals to expand to 40 teams as well. Then, once they decide on the number of teams, they will determine a format. Essentially, there's still a ways to go and while Infantino's voice is the most powerful, it is still only one voice.

Any changes to the World Cup format will not be enacted until the 2026 tournament. FIFA has to make a decision on the number of teams and format for that event in the next few months so they can put the tournament out to bid for potential hosts.