To say FIFA made some folks angry this week would be an understatement. The decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams prompted a seething response.
The most popular comments to a post on the FIFA Facebook page included: “FIFA needs to be boycotted”, “what a bunch of money grabbing morons FIFA really are!” and “congrats on destroying football and the World Cup just for the money you basterds (sic).”
Reading the responses to this FIFA Tweet, apart from learning how to swear in 14 languages, I couldn’t find a single fan of the call despite hundreds weighing in.
“Making a 48-team World Cup is like inviting your aunts, uncles and grandpa for [your] 18th b-day. It’s only going to be fun when they leave,” wrote one wisecracking gentleman.
It went on and on like this.
When deciding on a new format for the 2026 World Cup, the FIFA Council was unanimous on 48 teams. The response has been unanimous, too.
Well, almost unanimous. I read about the new format and found myself in the awkward position of not quite being in the same boat as everyone else.
Yes, it’s a big change. Yes, it has the appearance of being purely financially motivated.
But maybe – just maybe – it’s actually a good thing the World Cup is going to feature more of, you know, the world.
Australians know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. And we can all confirm that yes, the event does take on extra significance when we have the privilege of being able to watch the Socceroos take on the world’s best.
On a macro level, it’s hard to see how inviting more nations in won’t increase significance to many more people.
Some say the change weakens prestige and importance. The opposite may in fact be true.
The idea that teams will go through all the preparation required for a World Cup and then leave after two matches has also been a point of contention.
But even in the 32-team format, you get the odd few teams who deserve to be put on a plane after two matches.
Under the new model, 32 teams will still play a minimum of three games, which makes you feel this change isn’t as drastic as it’s being made out.
Concerns for the players have also been highlighted, but again, the level of change is being overblown here too. The length of the tournament stays the same and teams still play a maximum of seven matches.
From an entertainment viewpoint, the 48-team format is a winner because do-or-die matches arrive earlier in the tournament.
Then there’s the romance of nations who might’ve previously looked at qualification as an impossible dream, but as of now can dare to believe in that dream.
It’s a good bet the new format will produce more minnow fairytales.
Oh, and yes, there’s the money. FIFA stand to make more of it. At this point, nothing about that should shock you.
Even so, something tells me the mood might be a little more enthusiastic come 2026.