World football governing body, FIFA, on Tuesday voted unanimously to expand the World Cup from its current 32 teams to 48.
FIFA Council said on its Twitter feed that the new format will be introduced at the 2026 tournament.
FIFA wrote: “The FIFA Council unanimously decided on a 48-team #WorldCup as of 2026: 16 groups of 3 teams.”
The tournament will have an initial stage of 16 groups of three teams. Two teams from each group will qualify for a Round-of-32 knockout stage, FIFA said, with further details to be given later.
The FIFA Council unanimously decided on a 48-team #WorldCup“>https://twitter.com/hashtag/WorldCup?src=hash”>#WorldCup as of 2026:
16 groups of 3 teams. Details to follow after the meeting.
— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) January”>https://twitter.com/fifamedia/status/818753191449948160″>January 10, 2017
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, used the expansion as one of his key marketing tools during his campaign for election. He had initially suggested a 40-team tournament but then added another eight to that total in October.
This means that instead of the current 64, there will be a total of 80 games played at the 2026 World Cup
The increase in the number of teams and matches is expected to lead to major revenue gains, with a FIFA study showing that it should generate the equivalent of $1billion in extra income at current rates from broadcasting rights and sponsoring deals, plus ticket sales.
FIFA’s 211 member associations each hold one vote in the presidential election and 135 of them have never played at a World Cup, so expansion of the tournament was always likely to appeal.
In the weeks and months leading up to the FIFA Council meeting, critics of the plan, such as the European Club Association (ECA), warned that FIFA is tampering with a winning formula.
The ECA, the association which represents more than 200 European clubs, said the decision was based on “political reasons rather than sporting ones” and taken “under considerable political pressure”.
“We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives,” adding it would address the issue in more detail at the end of the month.
FIFA’s six continental federations are to find out by May how many extra places they will get at the 2026 World Cup.