FIFA’s decision to officially confirm a 48-team format for the World Cup, beginning with the 2026 edition, is expected to be a boon for Asian and African nations.
The expansion, which will see the group stage consist of 16 groups with three teams each, is designed to spread football beyond the traditional powerhouses of the sport.
Africa’s current allocation of five World Cup slots and Asia’s current allocation of 4.5 are both set to increase.
The UAE, currently Asia’s fifth-highest ranked team, could be one of the nations to benefit, having fallen short of qualifying for the World Cup in recent tournaments.
An expanded World Cup would provide an excellent opportunity for the UAE to add to its one World Cup appearance, which came back in 1990.
Other nations which could capitalise on the expanded format include China, which is investing heavily in its bid to become one of the world’s new football powers.
China has struggled in World Cup qualifying since its previous appearance at the showpiece event, in 2002, but its newfound financial muscle could see the nation return to the World Cup even before the expanded format debuts in 2026.
Outside of Asia and Africa, New Zealand are likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the expanded format.
The All Whites usually cruise through the Oceania regional qualifying, but under the current format, that only qualifies them for a playoff against a North American team for a World Cup slot.
An expanded format will almost certainly guarantee direct qualification to the World Cup for the Oceania winner.