Lisbon (AFP) – FIFA’s expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 will make football’s showpiece tournament “more competitive”, Portugal coach Fernando Santos said Thursday.
“We must avoid being too dramatic,” Santos said. “If this expansion meant an increase in the number of games (played during the tournament) things would be more complicated, but as it’s not the case, I’m clearly in favour of it.
“The expansion can even bring more competitiveness because the groups will have three instead of four teams and you’ll advance quicker to the knock-out matches.”
While the format for the World Cup finals faces an overhaul — 16 groups of three before the last 32 — the basic framework will remain similar, with a 32-day timeframe and 12 venues, according to FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, the man behind the reform passed this week.
“Some people will always say that an expanded format doesn’t bring more quality, but the fact is that these tournaments, above all the World Cup, are often marked by the absence of good teams,” said Santos, who guided Portugal to victory at Euro 2016, the first time that continental tournament had gone to 24 teams from 16.
The performances of Wales, who reached the semi-finals of the Euro, and Iceland, who beat England, showed that an expansion was good for the game, offering the chance for smaller nations to qualify for bigger tournaments, he said.
“Governments and federations invest more and that can only bring good things for football,” said Santos.