The upside of this successful Infantino campaign is that the World Cup finals will make direct entry to 16 more countries from 2026 onwards. It means even bigger market, development of infrastructure in smaller nations and more kids coming to the game.
The flip side is that a 48-team FIFA World Cup will dilute the intensity of the competition. Football’s lower-middle class will offer softies to the elites and the overall standard will be affected.
Still, an expanded World Cup finals is not a bad idea if it doesn’t increase the number of matches. As of now, the formula is to divide 48 teams into 16 groups of three countries each. The proposed pattern doesn’t add to the number of matches per side.
An expanded World Cup was part of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s electoral campaign. The elite clubs in Europe obviously didn’t support it, fearing for their players’ fitness and lack of recovery time in a lengthier event. Infantino, however, has promised a bigger World Cup “without any additional match” and it doesn’t rub the big clubs the wrong way. At the same time, it’s music to ears for football’s lower rung.
Far too often we focus on the club versus country issue in football. It’s basically a non-issue. This sport is nurtured and developed in clubs. Stars are born in clubs, World Cup success enhances their reputation. The World Cup finals might be the greatest spectacle on earth but it’s not the best football competition. UEFA Champions League takes the honour as far as quality is concerned.
World Cup finals is a global milieu with football being the common religion. From that point of view, a 48-team World Cup is a positive expansion. It would mean bigger representation from Asia, America and Africa; the three continents that contribute almost two-thirds to the game’s economy. The expanded tournament is also an excellent marketing strategy.
FIFA has 211 members and 135 of them have never been at a World Cup finals. It’s logical to give some of them a slice of the pie.