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Fifa approves Infantino's 48-team World Cup expansion plan

Football Soccer - FIFA Awards Ceremony - Zurich, Switzerland - 09/01/17. FIFA President Gianni Infantino arrives at the ceremony
Football Soccer - FIFA Awards Ceremony - Zurich, Switzerland - 09/01/17. FIFA President Gianni Infantino arrives at the ceremony REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Fifa's ruling council on Tuesday agreed to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 nations, up from the current 32-team format. The sixteen extra places could see the entry of more African and Asian nations, with an estimated profit rise of 640 million euros.

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The World Cup is set to become bigger and potentially richer.

Fifa's ruling council on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed plans to expand the tournament to 48 teams in 2026, a tweet from Fifa's official account said.

Fifa expansion, tweet

Under the new format, 16 groups of three teams will play off against each other, with the top two progressing to a last-32 knockout stage.

Currently eight groups of four teams go head to head, with the top two battling it out in the final 16 before being knocked out.

The decision marks a major coup for the world body's president Gianni Infantino. A bigger World Cup was after all what he promised before his election last February, as he sought to revamp the scandal-hit organisation.

But the move hasn't been without controversy.

On social media, critics have been quick to voice their concern, with one user writing: "Fifa you just killed the World Cup," and another: "this is probably the worst decision" made.

The plan has faced stiff opposition from some of sport's most powerful voices, concerned that expansion will lead to a decrease in quality.

Why fix something that's not broken? Questions World Cup champions Germany, who argue that the 32-format is tried and tested.

Germany is also worried that diluting the number of European and South American teams - which won all 20 titles since 1930 - could “strengthen the imbalance” seen at some tournaments. 

Fifa acknowledged the risk of lower standards in a research document sent to members last month, the Associated Press reported.

Still, Infantino promised voters more World Cup places and funding, and hopes to secure an extra one billion euros in revenues.

Africa and Asia are set to be the big winners in a larger format, with a rise in their number of places, currently at 5 and 4.5 respectively.

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