MOSCOW, January 10. /TASS/. The FIFA Council unanimously approved at its session on Tuesday in Zurich a new format of participants in the quadrennial World Cup tournaments increasing the number of the national teams from the current number of 32 up to a total of 48.
The new format of participation comes into force staring with the 2026 world football championship and stipulates a total of 16 groups with three national teams in each competing for the World Cup trophy.
"World football’s supervisory and strategic body held its third meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 9 and 10 January, and decided on a new tournament format with the 48 national teams split into 16 groups of three," according to an official statement from FIFA.
"The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage," the statement said.
"The new 48-team competition format has been drawn up in such a way that there is no reduction in the overall number of rest days and a guaranteed maximum of seven matches for the teams reaching the final, while the current 32-day tournament duration is kept, so as not to increase the length of time for which clubs have to release their players."
"The decision was taken following a thorough analysis, based on a report that included four different format options," the FIFA statement said. "The study took into account such factors as sporting balance, competition quality, impact on football development, infrastructure, projections on financial position and the consequences for event delivery."
The initiative to enlarge the participating format was voiced by FIFA President Gianni Infantino a year ago during his election campaign, but he initially proposed the number of 40 national teams.
The next two World Cups, which will be held in 2018 in Russia and in 2022 in Qatar, will be organized in line with the previous FIFA regulations stipulating a participating format of 32 national teams.
Former UEFA Secretary General Infantino, 46, was one of the five candidates running for the FIFA presidency and last year on February 26 at the Extraordinary Congress in Zurich he was voted in the second ballot by the organization’s member associations to take charge of the world’s governing body of football.
Russia is currently in full-swing preparations for the global football championship after the country won the bid to host the 2018 World Cup at the FIFA Congress in Guatemala on December 4, 2010. The victory came following a tight race against the bid from England, the joint bid from Portugal and Spain and the joint bid on behalf of Belgium and the Netherlands.