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Will 48 teams ruin the FIFA World Cup?

Lionel Messi called time on his international career, then swiftly made a comeback. (Wikimedia Commons)
Roar Pro
11th January, 2017
36

FIFA have announced an extension in the number of teams playing in the World Cup – from the present 32 team format to 48. Come 2026, the World Cup will see a three-fold jump in less than 50 years, from 16 in 1978 to 48.

No wonder this has rekindled an interest in the USA, which is gearing up to bid for the 2026 Cup.

» Who will qualify for the next World Cup? Get an indication with our up to date FIFA rankings

When the World Cup format was extended from 16 to 24 teams in 1982, the USA – which didn’t even qualify in the tournaments of 1982 and 1986 – was named as host of the 1994 Cup. America sensed a money-making opportunity and was successful in bidding.

They’ll smell the opportunity again now.

The first World Cup with as large as 48 teams on board is going to be a massive event. More than a dozen (16 to be exact) extra nations will competing for the coveted Cup, many for the first time. It is going to be manna for event and product marketing – a golden opportunity that must not be missed.

And the host country will benefit the most.

For many puritans of the game, this venture is purely a commercial move by the greedy FIFA – just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many teams can dilute the World Cup, making it just another also-ran zamboree.

But that’s what many pundits said when the format was extended from 16 to 24, then to the current strength of 32. Yet the World Cup remains as popular as ever, as quality of competition has brought the best out of it.

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Is another expansion going to disturb the delicate balance of quality versus quantity? Or will we see enhanced class as more teams get an opportunity to catch up?