Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

Football: What would a 48-team World Cup mean to New Zealand?

All Whites Chris Wood. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Photosport.co.nz.
All Whites Chris Wood. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Photosport.co.nz.

FIFA is set to make the World Cup bigger and richer, and New Zealand Football could be poised to cash in on the game's biggest purse.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino hopes his ruling Council will agree tomorrow to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 nations, playing in 16 groups of three teams.

That would mean nearly a quarter of FIFA's 209 Member Associations would be invited to the big dance, and Oceania would almost certainly be guaranteed at least one spot.

A decision could be delayed if some Council members demand to know exactly how many qualifying places each continent will get before agreeing to scrap the 32-team format.

So, this is good for New Zealand right?

Yes. Right now, Oceania is not guaranteed a place at the World Cup. The OFC winner faces a play-off against the fifth place qualifier from CONMEBOL, which is currently, er, Argentina.

So, yea, not having to beat the team with the best player ever would be nice.

Instead, New Zealand would have to see off Fiji, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, every four years, to qualify. Sounds like a good deal.

What do New Zealand Football think about the expansion?

They bloody love the idea. "We've been lobbying for direct entry into the World Cup for a long time," NZF boss Andy Martin said.

"That would give us financial security. That prizemoney really makes a difference in New Zealand and gives us a windfall.

"New Zealand or whoever wins the Oceania group should be in the World Cup. It's a Cup that represents the whole world and you can't have one of the confederations not represented."

Ok, so what is the money situation?

FIFA's own research suggests that an expanded tournament would rake in an additional $903 million profit on the current format. New Zealand Football recieved $10 million for qualifying for the 2010 World Cup ($40 percent went to the players) and that number would be unlikely to go down.

Why expand?

A bigger World Cup was an Infantino campaign promise before his election last February, when his plan was 40 teams.

It might have been key. Infantino's momentum for victory in a second-round poll was a three-vote lead over Sheik Salman of Bahrain in the first. Sheik Salman had promised only to review if more World Cup teams were wanted. Infantino also pledged to give more of FIFA's money to member federations - all 211 are now entitled to $5 million from each World Cup - and send more to continental and regional soccer bodies.

So, more teams also had to mean more games, earning more revenue from broadcasters and sponsors.

What would the format be?

A near-consensus is growing around the "16x3" option revealed one month ago.

All 80 games would be played in exclusive time slots. That's more hours of TV exposure for sponsors and sales time for broadcasters in the same 32-day tournament period.

By advancing two teams from each group, a Round of 32 ensures most teams still play at least three matches.

Who will qualify?

This won't be resolved until tomorrow. FIFA has yet to announce exactly how many entry slots each of six confederations would get for their own qualifying program.

Quotas for a 40-team World Cup were proposed in December 2015 by a FIFA advisory group that included Infantino, then UEFA's general secretary.

Then, assuming a single host nation would get automatic entry, the proposal for sharing 39 qualifying slots was: Europe 14; Africa 7; Asia 6; South America 5; North, Central America and Caribbean 5; Oceania 1; plus a final slot awarded "based on sporting merits using a method yet to be defined." Going from 40 to 48 could add at least one more from each continent.

Potential problems?

The main opposition so far has come from Germany, with football federation president Reinhard Grindel arguing that adding more teams could "strengthen the imbalance" seen at some tournaments.

The European Club Association (ECA), which represents the interests of the top club sides in Uefa, is also against the proposals, saying that an expanded tournament will mean more call-ups, injuries and congestion in the fixtures calendar.

The 'weakened tournament' argument was also highlighted by Tahiti's plight at the Confederations Cup in 2013. Tahiti won the OFC qualifiers in Honiara before being trounced 8-0 by Uruguay, 6-1 by Nigeria and 10-0 by Spain in Brazil.

If OFC get two automatic spots, there could be more scorelines like that at the World Cup.

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