If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Fifa always take decisions for the good of the game, and not for its own enrichment.
Apropos of nothing, we can now report that Fifa has voted to expand the World Cup Finals, from 2026, to feature 48 teams rather than the current 32.
The governing body voted unanimously for the move at a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday morning.
The FIFA Council unanimously decided on a 48-team #WorldCup as of 2026:— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) January 10, 2017
16 groups of 3 teams. Details to follow after the meeting.
Along with the increased number of teams, there will now be an increased number of games – 80 in total, rather than 64 – but the winner will still only play seven games and the tournament will still be completed within the current 32 days.
The group stages will see 16 pots of 3 teams, with the top two progressing to a 32 team second round, a 16 team third round, then the quarter-finals, semi-final and final.
-Fifa president Gianni Infantino led the move, saying the World Cup has to be "more inclusive", also saying expansion will benefit "the development of football all over the world". It will certainly make it easier to qualify for many teams, much like the expansion of the European Championships.
-The move will make FIFA more money, with revenue predicted to increase to £5.29bn, up £521m from the current income.
-For the casual football fan, more games to watch is surely a good thing, right?
-Having 48 teams at the finals runs the risk of devaluing the importance of reaching them. It will also further reduce the excitement of the qualification period in the two year run-up to the tournament – for many teams, it will be harder to not qualify than qualify.
-Having teams of a lower standard at the tournament runs the risk of increased mismatches in the group stages. Could we see a double figure defeat in 2026?
-The 3 team group stage also runs the risk of compromising the sporting integrity of the tournament – whichever two teams contest the final match of the group will be at a massive advantage, as they will know exactly what they have to do in order to qualify, running the risk of fixes and dead rubbers.
The move was always likely to go ahead, given that all voting nations want to increase their chances of competing at a World Cup – indeed it was a major reason that Infantino was elected in the first place. However, it lies in FIFA’s hands to decide what is ultimately good for the game and to make tough, unpopular, but long-term correct decisions. Still, the organisation that put the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar always get it right, doesn’t it?