It’s a tough job being an England fan. Not only is the national squad well-known for staging some of the most infuriatingly dull matches in international football, but they also have a habit of completely losing their composure during major tournaments, leading to unfortunate events such as their unceremonious defeat at the hands of Iceland in Euro 2016. The announcement from FIFA that they would increase the size of the World Cup to accommodate 48 teams was therefore an unwelcome one for many, as England fans will now be forced to endure their chances of advancing through the tournament being reduced significantly.
The FIFA Council unanimously voted to move away from the current 32-team set-up for the World Cup, increasing it to 48 teams and adding 16 nations in the process. This new format will be introduced in 2026, with the tournament now set to consist of 16 groups of 3 teams, rather than the 4-team groups it has included previously. This will now likely mean that the tournament will boast 64 games instead of 80, with a 32-team knockout taking place after the group stages, as is preferred by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
However, increasing the size of the World Cup to include more less accomplished teams has inevitably left England fans biting their nails, as the team’s humiliating defeat against Iceland has left them concerned that the country will be embarrassed by yet another major underdog in the international tournament. Fans have therefore spent the day joking about England’s chances on Twitter:
BREAKING: The 2026 World Cup will include 48 teams…
….which means England will now get knocked out by Poundland and Lego Land. pic.twitter.com/Zl1U6c1d5o
— SPORF (@Sporf) January 10, 2017
It's going to be very funny when England can't qualify for a 48-team World Cup
— Daniel Cherny 📰 (@DanielCherny) January 10, 2017
— TAB (@tabcomau) January 10, 2017
World Cup 2026 in North Korea:
England finish 3rd in Group P behind Mauritius and Vatican City.
Can't wait… pic.twitter.com/qAs4yzM6pH
— BigSport (@BigSportGB) January 10, 2017
I welcome the idea of a 48 team World Cup.
It'll be fun when the Scottish don't qualify and then laugh at England for losing to Tahiti.
— Matt Holt Tips (@MattHoltTips) January 9, 2017
But not everyone is as pessimistic as these England fans, with some pointing out that this could actually help improve England’s chances of progression by placing them against less accomplished teams. In fact, when taking into account current FIFA rankings, England could even find themselves in a group with the likes of Panama and United Arab Estimates, while Wales would have a similarly easy path to the knockout stagesc by potentially facing off against Curacao and China.
Using FIFA rankings, here's how World Cup 2026 groups could look. Seeds listed first; top 2 go through. Hell of a draw for Wales and England pic.twitter.com/HYdnRXJDyQ
— Huw Davies (@thehuwdavies) January 10, 2017
Alongside the expansion of the World Cup, Infantino has also suggested the controversial decision to make penalty shootouts mandatory in all World Cup games, meaning that group games could no longer end in a draw. While the details of this new World Cup format are still being ironed out, one thing’s for certain — there’s going to be a LOT of football come 2026.