The New Look World Cup – Your Questions Answered

FIFA are expected to announce that the World Cup is to be expanded to allow for a total of 48 teams.

The changes will be voted on when the Fifa Council meets in Zurich today and will come into force for the 2026 World Cup, but it has prompted several questions from fans and pundits. So let’s try to answer a few:

Why Is It Changing?
To cut a long story short – Gianni Infantino. The new head at Fifa proposed the changes as part of his election pledges last February. He claims it will reap financial benefits with 16 extra countries generating sponsorship as well as invigorating youth football in lesser countries who might now be able to qualify.

Who Will Get The Extra Places?
This has not been decided yet but the assumption is that confederations which are currently under represented such as Asia and Oceania will benefit. Their votes will be crucial to Infantino whenever he runs for re-election so they may on the lookout for sweeteners this week.

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin is demanding at least two extra places for Europe.

What Way Will The Groups Work?
There are several formats being proposed but the most popular is seemingly a system of 16 groups, each containing three teams. Each team will play each other once and the top two teams in each of the 16 groups will progress to the knockout stages.

This means that teams in the 2026 World Cup will only be guaranteed two fixtures as opposed to three under the current format.

What about the concerns?
Reinhard Grindel, the head of the German FA has spoken out against proposals, praising the ‘tried and tested’ current method and warning of watering down future competitions and increasing the burden on players.

But one main concern about the new format is the make-up of the groups. As there are only 3 teams in every group, one team will have to sit out the final matchday.

It opens up the possibility of the other two teams colluding to play out a result that will allow both to qualify.

How are Fifa going to get around this?
They are floating the idea of having a penalty shoot-out for drawn games in the group stages, meaning every game will have a winner. This they say will avoid a situation like West Germany v Austria at World Cup ’82 which became known as the ‘Disgrace of Gijon’. Both teams knew a 1 or 2 goal victory for the West Germans would see both teams progress and that’s exactly what happened after a game dominated by a lack of tackles and unchallenged possession.