Tuesday’s news that 2026 would feature the first ever 48 team World Cup came as no surprise. President Gianni Infantino made expansion of FIFA’s marquee event his most important campaign promise. It greatly helped him in the election. His plan to spread the World Cup to smaller nations that have never been there before earned him plenty of votes from these lower end soccer nations looking to get in on the party.
We Will Get Used to a 48 Team World Cup
Infantino and his supporters hailed the change as one that would benefit the game as a whole. The extra $1 billion in revenue would go towards investing in the development of players and leagues in smaller countries. The extra nations would build interest in those countries that normally wouldn’t get to enjoy the thrill of playing on the grandest stage.
Negative Public Reaction
The public reaction was less positive than that on the inside. Critics decried the expansion of the field would water down the competition. They claimed that making World Cup is a great honor that should be as exclusive as it can be. Plus, the 16 groups of three teams feels a little bit wonky and unfamiliar.
There is worry about competitive balance. There was talk of how nobody wants to see a powerhouse like Germany rail on a middling nation that would not have made it before the expansion. To be fair, this probably will happen early on.
The biggest complaint was that expanding the World Cup was all about the money, which it most certainly is. How can FIFA turn down such a huge windfall of cash? However, the expansion and development of the game in non-traditional nations still come along with that giant pile of cash. That is something we should be able to get behind. So long as the new found funds actually go towards the building of global soccer and not some other corrupt cause.
Soccer Fans Will Adapt Quickly
In truth, we, as soccer fans, will adjust to this change fairly quickly. We will forget we had any of these complaints ten years earlier once we go through one of these 48 team World Cup tournaments and see how thrilling it is. We will see a large uptick in do or die games that keep us on the edge of our seats and crave for more once the winner is crowned. We will see how exciting these group stage games are with so much on the line. Knowing that one loss can derail the entire hopes and dreams of the World Cup may seem unfair, but it’s also high on drama and excitement.
Before too long. we will get a Cinderella run like that of Iceland in last summer’s European Championships. Within the first tournament or two we may see a debutante nation like Thailand make an unbelievable run to the quarterfinals and immediately start speculating on who the next one will be.
We will be treated to an extra 16 high profile international matches every four years and be better off for it. There will be more soccer to talk about every four summers. More players will get the chance to shine on the big stage and end up with a lucrative contract with a major club that never would have had that chance before.
Yes, there will be blowouts to begin with. That 2026 tournament will probably see a 7-0 final score or two. However, that will pass over in time. With more countries able to make the big stage, more will develop a soccer tradition that will only increase the competition.
As a whole, the World Cup will be healthier and stronger because of this expansion. It may take the fans a while to come around, myself included. But after that first 48 team World Cup, we will be just as hooked on the world’s game as we were before. So the naysayers better get their fame from complaining now. In ten years time we will forget they ever existed. As long as we can make it through the impending 2022 nightmare in Qatar.