Honestly, I think what we have now is perfect. So does FIFA, or at least they did. 32 nations is a good size; it allows for a nice competition structure, provides quality football, and gives nations ample opportunity to qualify without dulling the competition.
I have serious contempt for the idea of 48 nations competing in the World Cup, but there was a lot of hate for the change to a 24-nation World Cup from 16, as well as the change to our current version. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Shaka Hislop is wrong – maybe the World Cup wouldn’t become “watered down” and physically stressful with 16 extra sides. There’s a rumor that the 2026 World Cup could feature 16 groups of 3 – maybe that won’t horribly suck.
48 nations qualifying would open up doors for footballers around the world that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to; exposure on a world stage, leading your country to glory, everything available to the members of the 32 nations that qualify for the current rendition.
Small nations that otherwise would never have a chance at making it to the World Cup finals would suddenly have reason to throw money towards their youth systems and leagues, developing players capable of representing their nation at the most iconic soccer tournament in the history of the world. While most of these nations would flame out in the early days if this size is adopted, it would do a lot to benefit the minnows out there in the future, who have never had a chance at winning the ultimate prize, however difficult it may be.
Increasing the tournament’s size would also help small footballing countries in the long term, as the money they put towards creating a World Cup squad will help domestic leagues develop quality players, ones they otherwise couldn’t afford to buy from elite clubs around the globe. When you can’t buy players, you raise and train them; of course, these are the only ones available for national tournaments, but establishing your own academies with homegrown talent benefits you at every level.
With 48 nations competing, we might be talking about the top eight or ten European leagues and wider competition in the Europa and Champions leagues, not to mention increased quality throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas. When you’re trying to compete for extra spots in the World Cup, you develop talent, and those players have to play somewhere – in domestic leagues that can then develop and grow themselves. The whole world will get better at the beautiful game, not worse and with lesser standards. It effects wouldn’t be seen for a generation or two, but if this format is adopted, there are going to be 48 nations fighting for the greatest prize of them all.
The 2026 World Cup probably won’t become known as one of the most intense and competitive events, but the 2030 World Cup and those that follow might find nations figuring out the new system and developing strategies to propel themselves through a tournament featuring 16 more international squads. The NCAA basketball tournament features 64 teams, and that’s an amazing setting that sees iconic, instant-classic games occur every March. How bad can it really be?
Improved quality of football around the globe will lead to improved competition in the World Cup at the very least, and if 48 nations racing for the golden trophy that only World Cup winners get to hold is more than enough motivation for 32 nations right now, why not let 16 others join the party?