News of FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026 has been supported by Football Federation Australia (FFA), but slammed by a host of football figures.
FIFA’s ruling council unanimously approved a proposal by President Gianni Infantino, who replaced Sepp Blatter at the helm in February 2016, to add an extra 16 nations to sport’s biggest party.
Critics of the decision – and there are many – cited the move as a “money grab and power grab”, while others said they were “very appalled” and “very angry”.
FFA chief executive David Gallop said the decision recognised the direction global football was heading in.
“Australia is part of the Asian Football Confederation where the most significant growth and investment is occurring,” he said on Wednesday.
“And we expect this trend to continue over the coming years, leading up to the World Cup expansion.
“As the quality of Asian football continues to improve, AFC Member Associations will justifiably deserve greater representation at the FIFA World Cup.”
Ex-Socceroos captain Paul Wade said the changes would mean there was “nothing special” about making the World Cup.
“I don’t agree with 16 [extra teams],” he told AAP.
“That just makes it [quality] even more diluted. Is money dominating the game that much?
“We don’t need 31-0 at the World Cup. It’s got to be special. Very, very special.”
FIFA is expected to pocket an extra $A1.4 billion by adding 16 teams to the tournament.
President of Germany’s Football Association, Reinhard Grindel, said: “I am not happy … my main worry is that the attractiveness of the matches will suffer.”
Berti Vogts, former German player and coach, added: “I’m very, very appalled. I don’t want to believe it. It’s terrible.”
Organisation New FIFA Now, which calls for reform within football’s governing body, said the move will “dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans”.
“It will not help development of the game or provide improved competitive opportunities for lower-ranked nations. Instead, it will make a mockery of the qualification process for most confederations.
“It is a money grab and power grab … this is straight out of the Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter [former FIFA presidents] playbook.”
So how will it work?
Instead of 64 overall matches, under the 48-nation system, 80 would be played at the World Cup finals – providing the increase in income.
Here is how FIFA is likely to allocate the qualification places.
Sides who make the 2026 finals would still only play seven matches in the tournament – as is the case now.
That is because the 48 teams would be divided into 16 groups of three, with each nation playing two group stage matches.
The top two countries from the 16 groups would progress to the final 32, where the tournament would enter a knockout stage.
The tournament would take 32 days to complete.
The World Cup has not tinkered with its format since 1998, when FIFA lifted the number of teams involved from 24 to 32.
The supporting view
While most football fans criticised the move, there were several figures within the game who felt FIFA’s decision was the right one.
Former Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Bosnich told Fox Sports he was “over the moon” with the “absolutely fantastic” decision.
“It’s a massive event, it’s the biggest sporting competition in the world,” he said.
“It gives all these countries the chance to experience what a great, massive social event that it is.
“This is a game that has more members in its confederation than United Nations do – 208 nations play football, so 48 out of 208, for me, is not really devaluing it.”
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said he was “totally in favour” of the expansion.
“More nations taking part means more passion, more happiness, more enthusiasm,” he told FIFA’s official website.
“More countries means more Africans, Asians, Americans together.”