FIFA's 48-team World Cup proposal gets backing at federations meeting

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a proposal to expand the World Cup to 48 nations, with 16 groups of three teams, received enthusiastic backing at a meeting of national federations on Thursday.

That model, along with an alternative 48-team format and a 40-team event, were three proposals put forward for discussion this week by FIFA as it considers expansion of the World Cup from 2026 onward.

A select meeting of national federations from Asia, Europe and Oceania met with Infantino in Singapore on Thursday, and welcomed a change from the current eight-group, 32-team event.

"They are very supportive of expanding; everyone, unanimously -- all those who were here," Infantino said after the meeting. "The big, big, big majority is in favour of the 48 teams with the 16 groups of three."

Under that format, the top two teams from each of the 16 groups would advance immediately into the knockout stages, eliminating the existing problem of some group games in which one or both teams had nothing to play for.

While some had voiced concerns that an expansion of the World Cup will dilute its quality and standing as an event for elite national teams, Infantino said those concerns were outweighed by the benefits.

"There is a big upside for football because it allows eight or 16 more teams and more countries and regions in the world to participate," Infantino said.

He also stressed that all the expansionary models would increase the number of teams without stretching the length of the event, which would remain capped at 32 days, with the finalists playing seven games in that period.

"There is no downside for the players, and there is no downside for the clubs because the calendar isn't impacted," Infantino said.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, was asked about FIFA's proposed plans to expand the World Cup during his news conference on Thursday, though he admitted to being apprehensive about the move.

"I'm a bit sceptical," Wenger said. "But if somebody can convince me that it will make football better and that we can live with the time it will take to complete the World Cup, I am ready to listen. At the moment, I think I am not convinced."

ESPN FC's Arsenal Correspondent Mattias Karen contributed to this report.