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FIFA may reverse World Cup change for 2026 tournament

FIFA president Gianni Infantino admits that the 2022 World Cup’s immensely-entertaining group stage has made soccer’s governing body reconsider its planned changes for 2026.

The tournament will grow to 48 teams and a new Round of 32 in four years time, and nothing’s set to change there.

Infantino, however, says that the planned implementation of 16 groups of three could switch to 12 groups of four.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

The tournament currently has eight groups of four, neatly sending two teams each to the Round of 16. The 48-team tournament would still do that, taking plenty of drama from the group stage.

It would also challenge the group stage’s final day, as teams playing last would have an inherent advantage over teams in Groups A or B.

But that certainly feels preferable to each team getting two games each and one team in each group likely having the disadvantage of watching the other two teams potentially decide its fate.

That said, a 2-0 team would know it has more rest time ahead of the Round of 16.

A 64-team tournament would crush qualifying and put some less-competitive teams In the tournament. If you’re growing from 32, would that be worth the sacrifice in quality?

What would 48-team World Cup have looked like in 2022?

Every confederation earns more places in a 48-team tournament, including Oceania which goes from an automatic space in an the inter-confederation playoff to an automatic berth in the tournament.

Asia moves to eight teams and Africa nine. CONCACAF will have six teams -- including hosts USA, Canada, and Mexico -- for 2026. Europe grows to 16, South America to six, as well as Oceania’s aforementioned place.

And there will be a playoff to decide two more places, with every confederation besides Europe placing a team in a six-nation tournament.

Below we’ll include the teams that played in Qatar in plain text, the teams that would join a 48-team tournament with an asterisk (*), and italicize teams that would’ve qualified if the tournament was 64 teams.

How watered down would it be? You decide.

UEFA (16)

Belgium
France
England
Spain
Netherlands
Portugal
Denmark
Germany
Croatia
Switzerland
Wales
Serbia
Poland
Italy*
Sweden*
Ukraine*

AFC (8)

Iran
Japan
South Korea
Australia
Qatar (hosts)
Saudi Arabia
Iraq*
UAE*
Oman (playoff)

CAF (9)

Senegal
Morocco
Tunisia
Cameroon
Ghana
Nigeria*
Algeria*
Egypt*
Mali*
Ivory Coast (playoff)

CONCACAF (6)

Mexico
USA
Costa Rica
Canada
Panama*
Jamaica*
El Salvador (playoff)

CONMEBOL (6)

Brazil
Argentina
Uruguay
Ecuador
Colombia*
Peru*
Chile (playoff)

OFC (1)

New Zealand*
Solomon Islands (playoff)

Gianni Infantino

DOHA, QATAR - JUNE 14: Winston Reid of New Zealand clashes with Anthony Contreras of Costa Rica during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Playoff match between Costa Rica and New Zealand at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on June 14, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

Getty Images

What would 64-team World Cup have looked like in 2022?

But what if the tournament expanded to 64 teams in order to keep two teams from every group reaching the knockout rounds, expanding to include a Round of 32?

Presuming that the expansion follows a similar route, qualifying would essentially mean that only two South American teams would miss every World Cup.

Should that mean CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, and Asian and Oceania, qualify together? That’s not great for the world’s carbon footprint, but we wouldn’t rule it out.

UEFA (21)

Belgium
France
England
Spain
Netherlands
Portugal
Denmark
Germany
Croatia
Switzerland
Wales
Serbia
Poland
Italy*
Sweden*
Ukraine*
Russia*
Austria*
Czechia*
Hungary*
Scotland*

AFC (11)

Iran
Japan
South Korea
Australia
Qatar (hosts)
Saudi Arabia
Iraq*
UAE*
Oman*
Uzbekistan*
China*

CAF (13)

Senegal
Morocco
Tunisia
Cameroon
Ghana
Nigeria*
Algeria*
Egypt*
Mali*
Ivory Coast*
Burkina Faso*
South Africa*
Cape Verde*

CONCACAF (8)

Mexico
USA
Costa Rica
Canada
Panama*
Jamaica*
El Salvador*
Honduras*

CONMEBOL (8)

Brazil
Argentina
Uruguay
Ecuador
Colombia*
Peru*
Chile*
Paraguay*

OFC (2)

New Zealand*
Solomon Islands*

Infantino

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 01: Oleksandr Zubkov of Ukraine shoots at goal during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Scotland and Ukraine at Hampden Park on June 01, 2022 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Getty Images

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