FIFA have voted in favour of expanding the World Cup to a 48 team format.
The decision to expand was taken at a meeting in Zurich this morning, and the new format will take effect from the 2026 World Cup onwards.
There will now be 80 tournament matches (rather than 64), but the eventual finalists will still play only seven games.
The 2026 World Cup will now begin with 16 groups of three teams, with the top two advancing into a 32 team knock-out stage., and the tournament will still take place over 32 days.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino also believes that penalty shoot-outs should be brought in to settle the results of all drawn games, to stop teams from potentially drawing on purpose in their final group game to see other teams eliminated.
There has been a mixed reaction to the expansion, with some – such as the European Club Association (ECA) – claiming that the decision was taken for monetary and political purposes rather than footballing reasons.
The 48 team format could result in €920 million more in broadcasting, commercial and match-day revenue, according to research from FIFA
Infantino claims that the new format will benefit “the development of football” around the world, but what could it mean for the boys in green?
Could Ireland benefit from these extra positions at the tournament? Maybe it’s time to back Ireland to win the tournament on betfair mobile.
Asian and African nations – who currently have four spots each – are expecting significant increases on their current allocation, and could reportedly see their allocation rise to nine places each.
As it stands, Europe’s allocation looks set to rise from 13 to 16 places at the tournament.
These three extra places could hugely benefit Ireland, who haven’t qualified for international football’s biggest tournament since 2002, when they reached the last 16 of the tournament.
The play-offs have been cruel to Ireland in the past, and this expansion should give Martin O’Neill’s men a better chance of progression.
Ironically, if current FIFA rankings remained in place until 2026, Ireland would qualify as Europe’s 14th team.
No venue will be chosen for the tournament until 2020, but a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico is reportedly an early favourite.
The SFA and the Irish FA have both welcomed the decision, and Martin O’Neill has yet to comment on the new format. Former Ireland boss Brian Kerr certainly doesn’t agree with the decision.
“It’s always about money and politics, isn’t it?” he told RTÉ Sport on Drivetime.
FIFA’s next meeting is in May, so we may have to wait until then for further information on the new format.
As it stands, it seems that the new format will benefit Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for future World Cups.