The world governing body for football, FIFA, voted in Zurich on Tuesday to expand the World Cup to host 48 teams, sixteen more from the former 32.
The upgrade which is set to take effect from World Cup 2026, will see an initial stage of 16 groups of three teams precede a knockout stage for the remaining 32.
The number of matches in the tournament will rise from 64 to 80, but the eventual winners will still play only seven games.
The tournament will be completed within 32 days – a measure to appease powerful European clubs, who objected to reform because of a crowded international schedule.
The changes mark the first World Cup expansion since 1998.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has been behind the move since he took over from Sepp Blatter, saying the World Cup has to be “more inclusive” to accommodate other teams and give smaller teams a fighting chance to win the prestigious trophy.
Speaking at a sports conference in Dubai in December, Infantino said the expansion will also benefit “the development of football all over the world”.
“There is nothing bigger in terms of boosting football in a country than participating in a World Cup.”
Despite saying “the decision should not just be financially driven”, Infantino did highlight the possible financial upsides.
According to Fifa’s own research, revenue is predicted to increase to £5.29bn for a 48-team tournament, giving a potential profit rise of £521m.
History of World Cup overhauls
|1930 Uruguay||13||1 group of 4 and 3 groups of 3, with only top team progressing to semi-finals|
|1934 Italy||16||Straight knockout tournament|
|1950 Brazil||13||3 groups of 4 and 1 group of 3, with top side progressing to final group of four|
|1954 Switzerland||16||4 groups of 4, but only 2 games in each group, with top 2 sides through to quarter-finals|
|1958 Sweden||16||4 groups of 4, this time with 3 games. Top 2 sides through to quarter-finals|
|1974 West Germany||16||4 groups of 4 but now followed with 2 groups of 4, the 2 top sides competing for the final|
|1982 Spain||24||6 groups of 4 followed by 4 groups of 3, the winner of each qualifying for the semi-finals|
|1986 Mexico||24||6 groups of 4, top 2 sides and 4 best 3rd-placed teams qualifying for round of 16|
|1998 France||32||8 groups of 4, top 2 sides progressing to knockout rounds|