Big changes are in store for the most popular soccer event in the world.
In 2026, the FIFA World Cup is expanding its participation from 32 teams to 48 teams. Part of that expansion includes an increase from eight groups to 12 groups.
Yes, you read that correctly.
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North America will host the tournament and it will be the most-inclusive field since FIFA first started organizing World Cups in 1930.
Let’s see why this change is happening and whether it will act as a benefit or a detriment to FIFA, the nations competing in the tournament, and the individual athletes around the world:
Why is FIFA expanding the World Cup stage from 32 to 48 teams?
FIFA wants more inclusivity in the game. There are dozens of smaller countries who have yet to be represented by the quadrennial soccer tournament, and after this year’s excitement, it’s clear that expansion of that thrill is of high demand.
Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development and a main component in accomplishing this 48-team World Cup, believes “that if the teams, the countries have more opportunities to go to the world stage, it will do more for (soccer) development inside that country.”
How will this expansion provide a positive impact?
Currently, FIFA’s soccer marquee event has 211 member countries or territories. FIFA and Wenger believe the expansion will act as an upgrade for the international phenomenon.
It will inspire young kids to delve in the sport and extend their dream to the main stage – the World Cup. More slots for more players means more dreams coming true and more teams making history.
“Just look at how the World Cup is unfolding,” said Senegal coach Alious Cisse. “It’s not like 30 years ago when the big fish were completely eating the little fish alive.” Senegal reached the round of 16 after surpassing both host nation Qatar and Ecuador in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup. The team lost to England in the knockout round.
Not to mention, expanding the amount of teams featured in the tournament will also increase the likelihood for iconic moments like we have seen already in the 2022 World Cup, including Morocco’s domination of Spain to get to the quarterfinals by penalty kicks or perhaps Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 upset over Lionel Messi and Argentina in the group stage.
Additionally, a bigger World Cup means more coverage, so FIFA will absolutely benefit from the change. In 2018, 3.5 billion people watched the World Cup in Russia, which earned soccer’s governing body revenues of $7.5 billion from commercial deals. Just imagine what adding 16 teams will do!
How will World Cup expansion negatively impact FIFA?
There is always potential for something that seems good, to instead backfire completely. So yes, increasing the participation from 32 to 48 teams might increase the likelihood of historical moments for smaller and underrated countries, it can also promote the issue of having “one-sided” games.
If there are more teams involved, the spotlight is taken from a tournament that is constructed to feature the best of the best in all of soccer internationally.
At the end of the day, the increase in nation participation might not really make much of a difference. European and South American teams have all 21 World Cup titles so far, including 12 for Europe and nine for South America, with Brazil being the most successful team with five World Cup wins. There has been no other continent who has won a final in history.
How many teams were there in the 1930 World Cup?
For the first-ever World Cup tournament, 13 teams from three confederations were featured. These teams included:
- United States
- Uruguay (host)
The inaugural World Cup was the only World Cup without qualification so every country affiliated with FIFA was invited to compete in the tournament. The reason for there being no qualifications was because the number of 16 teams, which was the amount supposed to be featured, was not reached.
The original 16 teams that qualified for the final tournament were the 13 teams mentioned plus Egypt, Japan and Siam. However, those three countries withdrew.
When was the last FIFA World Cup expansion?
The World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998. Prior to 1998, there were less than 32 teams and since 1998, there have been exactly 32 teams.
Here is a look into each World Cup’s number of participants:
- 1930: 13 teams
- 1934:16 teams
- 1938: 15 teams
- 1950: 13 teams
- 1954-1978: 16 teams
- 1982-1994: 24 teams
- 1998-2022: 32 teams
- 2026: 48 teams
How many World Cup groups will there be in 2026?
In the 2022 World Cup, there were 32 teams to start – eight groups of four teams each. It is assumed that if there are 48 teams, there will be 12 groups of the same four-team size.
However, FIFA said there is a chance there will be 16 groups of three teams.
This decision has not yet been made by FIFA’s decision-making council.