How will expanded World Cup work?

Published: 4:00 AM, January 12, 2017

What’s different?

Fifa has expanded the World Cup from 32 teams to 48, the first change to the competition’s participation rules since France 1998.

How will it work?

Teams will be split into 16 groups of three, increasing the total number of games played from 64 to 80.

The top two will take part in the first knockout round. To stop teams from colluding to ensure safe passage to that stage, penalty shootouts could decide any group match that ends as a draw.

How many games will the winners play?

Seven — the same as now.

When will the tournament start?

There is no date set yet, but 2026 is the most likely date for the start of the new World Cup. Mexico is the favourite to host, with the United States also reportedly considering making a bid. A decision will be made in 2020.

Why have they done this?

Fifa president Gianni Infantino says “the decision should not just be financially driven”. He wants this tournament to be more inclusive so smaller nations can experience the “joy” of a World Cup.

Who stands to benefit?

With a sceptical hat on, the clear beneficiary is Fifa.

According to its own research, it stands to significantly increase revenue — a 48-team tournament has the potential to increase income by up to £822 million (S$1.43 billion) more than the £4.5 billion revenue forecast for Russia 2018.

On a more romantic note, African and Asian nations can expect an increase on their current four qualification spots, diversifying the familiar mix of countries we are usually treated to.

What is it good for?

More games on television for everyone to enjoy, a welcome shake-up to the structure of the tournament which has been in place since 1998, and the opportunity for smaller nations to experience the thrill of a match-up with a world power.

What is it bad for?

The quality of football on show may suffer. If smaller, less technically competent nations turn out and play for a low-score draw to gamble on the lottery of a penalty shootout, it could be a long 32 days.

Euro 2016 was a triumph for defensive football but not a delight for the eyes.