FIFA approves 48-team World Cup

The FIFA Council has voted to expand the World Cup to a 48-team format with 16 groups of three for the 2026 finals.

FIFA has voted unanimously to expand the World Cup to a 48-team tournament in 2026.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino laid out plans to allow a further 16 teams to qualify for the finals in 2026 as part of his campaign for the top job last year.

After Wednesday's (AEDT) FIFA Council meeting in Zurich European Football's governing body issued a statement to confirm it had "decided to join in supporting the new format of the competition" as it was "clear that all other confederations were overwhelmingly in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams".

This qualified support comes after the European Club Association (ECA) reiterated its stance against World Cup expansion, although UEFA maintained it was satisfied with the new format in terms of the burden it will place upon players.

FIFA's plan is to use 16 three-team groups, preceding a round of 32 – a total of 80 matches across a 32-day competition. The allocation of slots to each continental federation is yet to be decided.

"UEFA is satisfied that it succeeded in postponing the final decision regarding the slot allocation of every confederation in the future format of the FIFA World Cup," the statement added.

"We would also like to state that we are happy that the new proposed length and format of the tournament does not increase the burden on players.

"We will also ensure that clubs' interests will continue to be protected.” 

Earlier in the day, FIFA president Gianni Infantino welcomed the reality of World Cup expansion, while referencing the ECA's criticism in the context of developing football beyond its traditional heartlands.

"There is a dialogue open with the ECA for many years," he said. "I know them very well personally. There are some critical voices from some clubs but I prefer to focus on the positive ones.

"There are a lot who favour this decision. We have of course discussed this topic several times with the clubs. The main point was always not to add to the calendar and the burden of the players.

"We're in the 21st century and we have to shape the World Cup for the 21st century. We have to look at football as more than just Europe and South America. 

"Football fever in a country that qualifies is the biggest promotional tool for football that you can have. From November when you qualify to June when it takes place, these nine months are the most important."