The 2022 World Cup still has a chance of becoming more crowded. In a press conference today in Moscow, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that he remains open to the possibility of expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, 4 years ahead of the proposed schedule. Infantino said that soccer’s governing body would “calmly and quietly” decide with Qatar, the 2022 host country, on whether it is something they can pull off.
A proposal to move up the 48-team format to 2022 came from CONMEBOL officials back in April, but no movement was made on that front, most likely due to the focus on this year’s tournament and the process of selecting the host for the 2026 World Cup (which went to the United States, Mexico, and Canada in a combined bid). Now that the 2018 tournament is in its final weekend, Infantino feels that it’s a good time to bring the proposal back to the table.
Under the 48-team format that was approved to begin with the 2026 World Cup, the number of total matches will increase from 64 to 80. That will put a huge strain on Qatar’s abilities to host the 2022 tournament if the expansion happened early. Keep in mind that the stadium that will host the opening match and the 2022 World Cup final, Lusail Iconic Stadium, is still under construction. The city of Lusail itself has not been built yet. For a tournament that was announced to run from November 21st through December 18th in 2022, that’s not a lot of time to prepare for a 32-team tournament, much less 48.
We will see what is eventually decided by FIFA, but it could shape how the next four years will operate in terms of World Cup qualifying and which teams we eventually see take the field in Qatar.