After a unanimous vote at a FIFA summit in Zurich this morning, 48 teams will battle it out for the greatest prize in world football. In 2026, nearly a quarter of all footballing nations will compete in what will be the largest and most diverse tournament in history. But for football’s world governing body, does bigger mean better?
Ever since Diego Maradona sprinkled his ethereal approval over FIFA’s initial plans for expansion, a new bumper sized tournament appeared inevitable. The man famous for demolishing some of greatest defences in World Cup history hopped aboard Gianni Infantino’s PR bulldozer in an attempt to lay waste to the villainous years of Sep Blatter and, on the surface, the move appears to be a good one.
The new tournament will certainly be a footballing feast. With 16 groups of 3, the overall number of matches will rise from 64 to 80. Expansion also means that there can be greater representation from the growing football economies in Asia and Africa. Who isn’t licking their lips at the prospect of Oman vs Gabon?
What’s more, a 3 team group format may inject some much needed spice to proceedings. With the exception of Brazil’s majestic tournament in 2014, the last decade has seen fan interest diminish with conservative tactics, fatigued squads and managers so concerned for job safety that they might as well have been handing out CVs at every pre-match press conference.
With only 2 teams progressing to the round of 32, the pressure will certainly be on to win. Rumoured plans to end drawn games in penalty shoot outs seem a little far-fetched but in a footballing world where Oscar is worth £51 million, anything is possible.
It is on the money front where things get a little sticky. FIFA’s own research predicts that a 48 team tournament would see a profit rise of a cool £521 million (roughly, ten and a quarter Oscars). Whereas Blatter stuffed his pockets surreptitiously, Infantino appears to be doing it in plain sight.
I sincerely hope that the 2026 tournament, most likely hosted on an oil magnate’s yacht and sponsored by lard, provides the kind of spectacle that international football sorely needs. However, one gets the impression that this is a last ditch effort to keep the international game at pace with its younger, richer, sexier sibling: club football. Bigger? Certainly. Better? Only time will tell.