The 2026 World Cup will include 48 teams, up from 32 in 2026. It means more of soccer’s “small teams” that didn’t reach it to Qatar will get a chance in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico events. That may be good news for everyone who enjoyed Saudi Arabia’s upset of Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Japan’s two wins against former champions Germany and Spain, or Morocco’s quarterfinal run. In four years, expect more surprises.
Bigger isn’t always better. Forty-eight teams may boost the likelihood of fairytale moments like Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina in the group stage. Still, they may also lead to more one-sided games that dull a tournament to pit the best against the best. This World Cup featured Spain 7 and Costa Rica 0, as did England’s 6-2 destruction of Iran, France’s 4-1 thrashing of Australia, and Qatar’s first group-stage loss.
2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams.
FIFA must dive further into lower-level international soccer to reach 48. Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development, said, “We’ll have to find 16 more good teams” FIFA still promotes the expansion as a global game enhancement. All continents will have more slots, and FIFA says expanding soccer’s premier event to more of its 211 member countries or territories should inspire more kids to kick balls around the world.
“If teams, countries have more opportunity to go to the world stage, it will do more for (soccer) development,” Wenger remarked. Qatar’s World Cup is FIFA’s first outside Europe and South America. This choice has drawn criticism, but the on-field action may have been a reasonable promotion for FIFA’s 48-team plan, which it revealed in 2017 and has had to defend over questions about the exact format. FIFA suggested 16 groups of three teams, but it was disputed.
Twelve four-team groups is another option. Wenger claimed FIFA’s council hasn’t decided. Japan qualified for the last 16 in Qatar, which has never happened before. African teams scored more group-stage points than before. Morocco advanced to the quarterfinals by overcoming Spain on penalties on Tuesday.
Cameroon beat Brazil for the first time in a World Cup, becoming the first African team to do so. Senegal coach Aliou Cisse: “Look at the World Cup.” “Not like 30 years ago, when giant fish ate small fish alive.” Takefusa Kubo remarked, “they can’t overlook Asia” during Japan’s run in Qatar. Ghana coach Otto Addo believes Africa deserves its extra places and has a greater opportunity to advance.
The expansion may not affect the World Cup’s outcome. European and South American teams have won all 21 World Cups, with 12 for Europe and 9 for South America. No non-European side has reached a World Cup final in nearly 100 years. Eighty-two semifinalists are European or South American.
1930 U.S. and 2002 S. Korea are exceptions. In Qatar, teams from outside Europe and South America played well in the group round, but only Morocco went to the quarterfinals. South Korea, Japan, Senegal, the US, and Australia lost in round 16. Senegal, the African champions, lost 3-0 to England. Brazil beat No. 3 South Korea 4-1. Son Heung-min, South Korea’s star, stated, “Look at their players.”
FIFA would benefit from a bigger World Cup. According to FIFA, more than half the world watched the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the soccer body made $7.5 billion from commercial deals connected to the Qatar World Cup. With 32 teams in the bank, 48 offers the possibility to sell World Cup dreams to more people in more places.