This morning, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that from 2026, the World Cup will be expanding to a 48-team format.
Sixteen groups of three teams will duke it out for two qualifying spots before the final 32 face off in knockout rounds. There will be a decision made two years before the finals whether ties in the group stages will be settled by penalty shootouts.
So, the real question out of this is, have they gone absolutely bloomin’ bonkers?
Well FIFA certainly don’t think so, as they can’t see any of the anger towards them through the shower of money raining in front of them. With the extra 16 games comes only more need for fans to fill stadiums, more games for television companies to cast and more heavy-duty wallets for the bigwigs.
That’s not to say that any positive is because of greed. The four additional spots for Asia and Africa to qualify are great for two developing continents within the world of football to gain exposure on what is the largest stage.
It’s also another well for FIFA to drain should it take of as well.
However, there are also legitimate arguments against the idea of a big expansion like this, starting with it diluting the competition element of the tournament. With the most recent European Championships a prime example, adding more teams means that some that missed out because they weren’t good enough then will slip through the cracks, bringing the overall football on show down a peg.
That also, unfortunately, includes those extra teams coming from nations like Asia and Africa. When current rankings are taken into consideration, teams like Sweden, Denmark, Scotland and Austria would not make it whereas powerful footballing sides like China, UAE and Curacao would.
But then, those heart-warming stories about the plucky underdog can become more likely. With some bigger nations maybe taking it easy or tired from a long season, some small nation may get the chance to stun us like Iceland or Wales did in Euro 2016.
Then again, there’s just as much chance of drubbings that require the score prompter to spell out the number because it’s got that high.
There will also be a big backlash from a number of the big European clubs, filled with international players, who already have to give some a longer rest if they go far in the tournament. With it likely to last longer or attempt to pack more matches into a shorter timeframe, especially with plans to move kick off times for big markets, it will only exacerbate an already strong issue for club football.
It also boggles the mind of the football purists, who can’t even fathom trying to cover that many games in a short space of time. That fatigue will also eventually hit the regular fan too, exhausted from a long club season and a myriad of pointless qualifiers that have even less significance now that when it does come to the summer, they would rather take a few weeks off.
Lost in some of this is the dream machine it will hopefully make for some of the youngsters around the world in some of the most impoverished areas. That may be true and that’s a beautiful idealism to root for but is that FIFA’s forward thinking or a by-product of them trying to expand their grip into new markets?
This is sure to be a debate that will roll on until the tournament, wherever it may be held, rolls around in nine years’ time. While some will be shaking their heads, some like those in FIFA will simply be blue-balling themselves with dollar signs in their eyes until then.