The FIFA World Cup expansion from 32 teams to 48 teams from 2026 was announced today by the world football governing council.
An additional 16 countries in total will qualify for the tournament from the six FIFA continental zones Africa, Asia, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America, Oceania, Europe.
The planned changes will result in the group stage comprising 16 groups of three nations.
The new format could help fund extra money for FIFA’s 211 members as the world governing body forecasts that revenue could rise 20 percent to $6.5 billion according do ESPN.
The big question that remains is how the extra places will be split between the six FIFA zones.
UEFA has said it wants the number of European teams to be raised from 13 teams to 16 for the 2026 tournament.
The new changes could end up helping teams that usually struggle to make the World Cup as well as emerging powers like Turkey that have had to enter the qualifying stage as third and fourth pot sides for years.
While it is unlikely to have much of an effect on the pot one sides as they will continue to avoid each other in the group stages the new changes have the potential to make the path to entry for Turkey smoother.
Turkey has yet to reach a World Cup finals since finishing the 2002 tournament in third place.
The Crescent Stars reached the play-off round of the 2006 World Cup qualification, in 2010 Turkey missed out on a play-off spot as they did in the World Cup 2014 qualification stage.
With a potential three extra places up for grabs teams regularly on the periphery of World Cup qualification like Turkey could end up making it into the top 16 teams in the UEFA zone.
There has been no confirmation yet regarding how many additional places will be handed to UEFA zone countries so it is still premature to speculate over how it will effect countries like Turkey’s qualification chances but an increase in the allocation would almost certainly benefit the national team.
The changes do appear to benefit the emerging footballing powers such as Turkey but also India and China who have invested heavily in improving their infrastructure. The two countries population totals around two billion combined which could open lucrative new markets for FIFA and football in general. The new changes are likely to make it easier for the likes of China and India to qualify for the World Cup in the future and expand the global reach of the tournament in the process.
There has also been criticism from the likes of New FIFA Now – a campaign group that says the governing body needs to reform – claiming that the new format will ‘dilute the competitiveness’ of the World Cup.
New FIFA Now were quoted by the BBC as saying: “It will dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans,” it said in a statement.
“It will not help development of the game or provide improved competitive opportunities for lower-ranked nations. Instead, it will make a mockery of the qualification process for most confederations.”