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The 48-Team World Cup Was Inevitable

FIFA’s president keeps his promise

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The worst-kept secret in world soccer is finally a reality.

Gianni Infantino rose to the FIFA presidency on the back of a platform that promised to expand the World Cup beyond its current 32 teams, and the organization he now presides over did just that. Come 2026, the Location-TBD World Cup will include 48 countries.

Of course this is happening.

For Infantino, expanding the World Cup is a no-brainer. Politically, it pleases Infantino’s power base in Asia and Africa. Neither region can match Europe or South America in quality of play, but together they have way more member countries. As recently as 1978, Asia and Africa had only one team each in the World Cup. In 2014, they had four and five, respectively. And in 2026, those numbers will rise to eight and nine.

The economic benefits of the expansion are even more obvious. According to The New York Times, FIFA estimates that the 48-team field will provide an additional “$1 billion in television, sponsorship and ticketing revenue in the first cycle alone.” During his campaign, Infantino promised to increase payments to FIFA member nations, and this is how. Here’s ESPN’s Gabriele Marcotti:

The expansion will water down the field, but we don’t watch international tournaments for the best soccer anymore. Go watch the Champions League if you want to see all the best players playing together. Plus, as we saw during the newly-expanded Euros last summer — with a Germany-France semi, and a Portugal-France final — the best teams will eventually go head-to-head anyway.

This is roughly what the field would look like if we had a 48-team tournament tomorrow:

Who cares if Curacao is in it? It’s the World Cup; we’re all still gonna watch.