Yesterday, the FIFA Council announced they will be changing the pool of teams in the 2026 World Cup from 36 to 48. The unanimously passed motion will change the group stage from its traditional format to 16 groups of 3, where the top two finishers in each group advance to a knockout round of 32 teams.
The historic move is met with a bit of opposition. While many believe the change will help those teams who struggle to qualify for a World Cup, there are some that point to the folds of FIFA’s wallets as the dominating reason. In any case, the expansion will absolutely open the doors to many nations who were looking to enter the World Cup arena. Here’s a quick take as to which continent will benefit the most from the added teams:
We thought it would be fun to look at which of our West Ham players would take the international stage if this new rule was enacted today, instead of 2026. These are the constant bubble teams who do marginally well in the qualifying but consistently fail in that final step.
If there was ever an appropriate reason to use the phrase, “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”, it’s when referring to the national football team from New Zealand. New Zealand have made two appearances ever in the World Cup, going winless in both, and exiting prematurely. However, recently the team is much better, as their players can be found all over the globe. Winston Reid, being one of the more prominent members. Oceania currently only gets .5 a team into the World Cup. Meaning, you can have a stellar qualifying group stage and go undefeated, and then lose the playoff match against the 6th place team from South America or another continent. Most recently in the 2014 World Cup playoff, Mexico beat New Zealand to take that final position. All bets are off in the new format as we would expect to see Australia or New Zealand in almost every World Cup in 2026 and on.
West Ham United will certainly be missing Cheikhou Kouyate during the African Cup of Nations. However, Senegal hasn’t had a very good showing on the international stage. The Confederation of African Football currently send 5 of their nations to the World Cup. With the the expansion we might be seeing 9 African nations vying for the ultimate international prize. Senegal has only qualified once, reaching the quarter final in Korea 2002. Outside of that one remarkable run, they have failed to make a showing in the group stage. They always seem to just fall short when it comes to qualification but would certainly make the cut with 9 nations representing the CAF.
Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland have missed the last three World Cups and prior to 1990, never qualified for the big show. Given their lively performance in the Euros this summer, you’ve got to believe in their qualification chances for 2018. Yet, their chances would go from a ‘most likely’ to ‘what’s the weather like in Moscow?’ in an instant if the change took effect today. Unfortunately, it’s not 2026 and Ireland will have to do it the old fashioned way. Given Darren Randolph’s form over the past year they shouldn’t have any issue.
Everyone’s favorite bearded warrior runs free with his Welsh pack. Another example here of a team who grabbed the world’s attention during the Euros this past summer, reaching the Semi-Finals. However, since 1958, the Welsh national football team have not made an appearance to the big dance. Much like the Republic of Ireland, this squad, who features one of the world’s best in Gareth Bale, continuously challenged but have fallen short. They would be a lock for the group stage were the new rules in application.