On Monday, the Associated Press reported a Fifa feasibility study concluded the 2022 World Cup could expand to 48 teams by using one of Qatar’s Gulf neighbours as an additional host. Here are the details, and what that could mean for football’s showpiece event.
Why a 48-team World Cup?
A decision to expand the tournament from 32 teams has already been made, although the change was not supposed to take effect until 2026, when the United States, Canada and Mexico co-host. However, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said last April that he was keen on bringing forward the increase to 2022, which he reiterated in Dubai earlier this year. The study said a 48-team tournament would generate an additional US$400 million (Dh1.47 billion) in revenue.
What would the new format be?
Just as has been devised for 2026, the group stage would consist of 16 pools of three teams, followed by a knockout round of 32. Even though 16 extra matches would be added – a 48-team tournament would comprise 80 games – any team would still play only a maximum of seven fixtures, as France and Croatia did at last summer’s World Cup in Russia. Fifa says there could be as many as six separate kick-off times early in the expanded tournament. Despite the additional teams, the competition would still be played between November 21 and December 18. It will mark the first winter World Cup in history.
Who would co-host?
Kuwait and Oman emerged last week as possible partners given their neutrality in the ongoing boycott of Qatar by several of its neighbours. At present, 64 matches will be played across eight stadiums in a 30-mile radius in Qatar, with Fifa suggesting two to four additional venues would be needed "with one or more" country in the Gulf.
When will the final decision will be taken?
The Fifa Council meets this Thursday and Friday in Miami, where they can agree in principle on expanding the 2022 tournament, on the condition that neighbouring countries host games. Fifa and Qatar would then submit a final proposal to the Fifa Council and Fifa Congress in June, where a final decision would be taken.
How would Asian qualification be affected?
A 48-team World Cup increases the number of places available to teams of every confederation, with Asia granted eight slots – an increase from 4.5 (four direct and one via an inter-confederation play-off), and not including the host nation. The draw for qualification takes place in July, with the second round of Asian qualifiers – where the UAE enter – beginning in September. The third round will start 12 months later. The first two rounds double as qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup.