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FIFA Unanimously Approves 48-Team World Cup Expansion

The 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams divided into 16 groups of three.

The FIFA World Cup is set to undergo its first expansion since the current format of 32 teams was employed at the 1998 World Cup in France. The 2026 World Cup, as unanimously approved by members of the FIFA Council on Tuesday, will feature 48 teams.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will stick to the 32-team format, meaning that the expanded tournament will likely make its debut in the CONCACAF region come 2026.

The format will shift to 16 groups of three teams. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has outlined a revamped competition where the group stage will be followed by a 32-team knockout round. While the number of matches played will increase from 64 to 80, the plan will still see the tournament played over the course of a single month.

With only two group matches to be played for each nation, the suggestion of penalty shootouts as opposed to draws to settle the outcomes of games is also likely.

The tournament is forecasted to bring in an extra $1 billion income, and while no announcement has been made on the updated qualifying process, it’s thought that the addition of 16 more nations will largely benefit Asia and Africa.

Expansion has been a recurring theme throughout the history of the World Cup. The original World Cup in 1930 featured 13 nations. While that number varied over the next three editions of the tournament (16, 15, 13), the 16-team tournament used at the 1954 World Cup was the accepted format until 1982, when the tournament grew to 24 nations. The 32-team competition didn’t begin until the 1998 World Cup in France.

The bidding process for the right to host the 2026 World Cup will begin in 2020. It’s widely believed that the tournament will be awarded to the CONCACAF region — Canada, Mexico and the United States have all expressed their interest while a joint bid is a possibility as well.

(H/T: ESPN FC)