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FIFA to expand World Cup tournament to include more teams

The World Cup is about to get a whole lot bigger. FIFA's governing council decided unanimously Tuesday to expand the global soccer tournament to 48 initial teams, up from the current 32, The New York Times reports.

The changes will be put into effect for the 2026 tournament, the location of which has not yet been decided. Supporters of the additional teams claim that the larger pool will allow for more inclusion, although detractors have called the move financially motivated. The financial implications are not insignificant: Adding 16 teams brings in $1 billion more in television, sponsorship, and ticket revenue, FIFA estimates.

The structure of the tournament will alter slightly, so teams compete first in 16 different three-team groups, with the top two teams advancing to a 32-team knockout round. The result means 80 games (up from 63) over the course of five weeks, and could potentially tire out players and make for sloppier late-stage games.

Underrepresented regions such as Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean are excited by the opportunity to be included, though. In 2014, for example, a pool of 48 could have brought in New Zealand, Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan, amongst others.

The World Cup has expanded enormously over the years. The first tournament, in 1930, only had 13 teams.