Gianni Infantino proposes 48-team, 16-group World Cup format
LONDON (AP) — FIFA President Gianni Infantino has suggested having 16 three-team groups if the World Cup expands to 48 countries.
Members of the FIFA Council received a recommendation from world soccer's governing body setting out five proposed formats for its showpiece event from 2026—two 48-team team options, two 40-team options and sticking at 32.
Infantino first advocated a new, opening playoff round for 32 of the 48 finalists. The 16 winners would then join 16 seeded teams to begin a 32-team group stage that follows the current World Cup format.
But with 16 teams going home after only one game, that idea met with opposition at a meeting of 20 FIFA member nations in Paris last month.
Ahead of a meeting of Asian soccer nations in Singapore this week, Infantino drew up a new configuration for a 48-team World Cup that FIFA hopes is easier to understand.
All qualifying nations would start out in 16 groups of three teams. The top two teams advance to a new round of 32, with the bottom-place team going home after two matches. The finalists would still play a total of seven games, limiting potential opposition from clubs who send their players on international duty.
But only having three games in each group raises the possibility of teams being hard to separate on points, goals scored or goal difference. FIFA is exploring how to determine which teams advance in that scenario, with administrators mulling if penalty shootouts could be used for bonus points.
Infantino championed a mathematically-clunky 40-team World Cup before being elected in February.
Although Sepp Blatter's successor no longer backs this plan, two options will still be on the table when the FIFA Council meets in January. There could be eight groups of five teams or 10 groups of four.
For the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, there will be no change to the 32-team format that has existed since 1998.
However, with Infantino's term ending in 2019, giving more countries a chance to play on world soccer's biggest stage would be a popular move among many federations.
"Everyone sees that the increase of the participation for the World Cup is really a tool to promote football in more countries," Infantino said last month.