FIFA has approved plans to expand the FIFA World Cup from 32 teams to 48 from the 2026 tournament.
Football’s governing body voted unanimously in favour of Gianni Infantino’s plans which will feature an initial stage of 16 groups of three teams, followed by a knockout stage for the remaining 32 teams.
The changes mean that the number of matches will rise from 64 to 80, but the eventual winners will still play only seven games.
The tournament will be completed in 32 days in an effort to appease big European clubs who objected to reform the competition because of a busy international schedule. It is the first World Cup expansion since 1998.
Plans were led by FIFA’s newly elected president Gianni infantino, who promised more opportunities for World Cup qualification as part of his election campaign last year that saw him replace Sepp Blatter. The FIFA Council, created to replace the body’s discredited executive committee, was given four options for the future tournament including the creation of a 40-team event, along with a 48-team format as wel as the option to keep the current structure.
Infantino said: "We are in the 21st century and we have to shape the World Cup of the 21st century. It is the future. Football is more than just Europe and South America, football is global.
"The football fever you have in a country that qualifies for the World Cup is the biggest promotional tool for football you can have.
"This football promotion, in many parts of the world where today they have no chance to play [at the World Cup], was at the top of our thoughts."
Image: ©Getty Images