2026 World Cup to feature 48 teams

FIFA says opening football’s marquee event to more of its 211 member countries should have an impact beyond the teams, allowing more fans to cheer on their team.

DOHA, Qatar – The next one World Championship will be the greatest of all time after the world governing body FIFA made the jump from 32 teams to 48 teams in 2026.

That means even more of football’s so-called ‘small teams’ who didn’t make it to Qatar will have the chance of a lifetime when the tournament is hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

This could be great news for anyone caught up in Saudi Arabia’s stirring anger at Lionel Messi’s Argentina at this World Cup, Japan’s two wins over former champions Germany and Spain, or Morocco’s humiliation of star-studded Belgium and Spain en route to an unexpected quarter-finals were entertained run. In four years more surprises are sure to come.

Still, not everyone realizes that bigger is better.

While 48 teams could increase the chances of fairy-tale moments like Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina in the group stage, there’s also a good chance of the opposite: more one-sided games that could take away some of the shine of a tournament be best against the best.

“It means we have to find 16 more good teams,” said Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of global football development and a key figure in making a 48-team World Cup viable.

FIFA still promotes the expansion as an upgrade and good for global play. All continents will have more slots and FIFA says opening up football’s marquee event to more of its 211 member countries or territories should have an impact beyond teams, with the prospect of even more eyes on TV screens and more kids watching be inspired to kick balls around the world.

“I am convinced that if teams and countries have more opportunities to go onto the world stage, it will do more for (football) development in this country,” Wenger said.

The World Cup in Qatar is the first in the Middle East and the furthest FIFA has ventured from the heartlands of football in Europe and South America. That decision has drawn its own harsh criticism, but the on-pitch action may have been timely publicity for the 48-team plan that FIFA announced in 2017 and has since had to defend amid doubts about the exact format.

FIFA initially stated that there would be 16 groups of three teams each, but this idea was widely criticized. Another option could be 12 groups of four teams each. Wenger said FIFA’s decision-making council has not yet made a decision.

In Qatar, Japan were one of three Asian teams to qualify for the round of 16, which had never happened before. African teams collected more points in the group stage than ever before. Morocco led a group with Croatia, 2018 runners-up, and Belgium, semi-finalists, and reached the quarter-finals by beating Spain on penalties on Tuesday. Cameroon bid farewell by beating Brazil, the first time an African side has beaten the five-time world champions and football’s most famous team at a World Cup.

“Just look at how the World Cup is developing,” said Senegalese coach Aliou Cisse. “It’s not like 30 years ago when the big fish ate the little fish alive.”

Amid Japan’s run in Qatar, winger Takefusa Kubo said: “You mustn’t underestimate Asia.” Ghana coach Otto Addo said Africa deserved their extra places and his sides now have a better chance of progressing.

However, the expansion may not have a major impact on the final result of the World Cup.

European and South American sides – the big fish Cisse spoke of – have gobbled up every one of the 21 World Cup titles so far, 12 for Europe and nine for South America. In almost 100 years of World Cup history, no team from another continent has made it into the final. 82 of the 84 semi-finalists were European or South American. The United States in 1930 and South Korea in 2002 are the exceptions.

In Qatar, teams from outside Europe and South America did well in the group stage, but only Morocco reached the quarter-finals where they will face Portugal on Saturday. South Korea, Japan, Senegal, the United States and Australia all went out in the round of 16.

Cisses Senegal are African champions but were beaten 3-0 by England. South Korea, ranked No. 3 in Asia, was defeated 4-1 by Brazil. South Korea’s striker Son Heung-min, his country’s only star, said almost enviously: “Look at their players.”

However, a larger World Cup offers clear promotion opportunities for FIFA.

A little over 3.5 billion people, more than half the world’s population, watched the 2018 World Cup in Russia, according to FIFA, and the Football Association generated a record $7.5 billion in revenue from commercial deals related to the World Cup in Qatar.

With those numbers on the bench from a 32-team tournament, 48 offers the obvious opportunity to sell World Cup ambitions to more people in more places.

AP sportswriter Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/next-world-cup-48-teams/507-f763d98b-24ed-440e-842d-596c162a7a09 2026 World Cup to feature 48 teams

Emma Bowman

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