World Cup expansion 'positive step' - Scottish FA

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan
Stewart Regan predicts a "greater eclectic mix of footballing cultures"

Expanding the World Cup to 48 teams is a "positive" step, according to SFA chief executive Stewart Regan.

An initial stage of 16 groups of three teams will precede a knockout stage for the remaining 32 when the change is made for the 2026 tournament.

"We believe this is a positive step, particularly for the smaller nations," said Regan.

"Wales, Iceland and Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 showed the impact smaller nations can make," he added.

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Fifa, the sport's world governing body, voted unanimously in favour of the change at a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday.

The number of tournament matches will rise to 80, from 64, but the eventual winners will still play only seven games.

Why expand?

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has been behind the move, saying the World Cup has to be "more inclusive".

According to Fifa's own research, revenue is predicted to increase to £5.29bn for a 48-team tournament, giving a potential profit rise of £521m.

Former SFA chief executive Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith: "I would vote for this..."

Scotland have played in eight World Cup finals but last qualified in 1998.

The campaign to reach Russia in 2018 has started poorly, with Gordon Strachan's team fifth in Group F after four games.

Regan said: "We are pleased with the news that the Fifa World Cup will expand to 48 teams from 2026.

"We believe it will allow more fans across the globe to revel in their country's participation at a World Cup finals.

"A greater eclectic mix of footballing cultures at the Fifa World Cup will create a bigger and better atmosphere than ever before."

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Former SFA chief executive Gordon Smith thinks the expansion will generate more excitement and offers Scotland a greater chance of qualification.

"I would be voting for this if I was still at the SFA," Smith told BBC Radio Scotland. "I was very much in favour of increasing the European [Championship] to 32 and I would vote for this. It does give us more chance [to qualify] and also gives a bit more excitement to matches during the qualifying rounds too."

"I think there'd be more excitement in the play-offs. It [the expansion] is obviously generating more money and more games being televised."

History of World Cup overhauls

World CupTeamsFormat
1930 Uruguay131 group of 4 and 3 groups of 3, with only top team progressing to semi-finals
1934 Italy16Straight knockout tournament
1950 Brazil15 (although only 13 took part)3 groups of 4 and 1 group of 3, with top side progressing to final group of four
1954 Switzerland164 groups of 4, but only 2 games in each group, with top 2 sides through to quarter-finals
1958 Sweden164 groups of 4, this time with 3 games. Top 2 sides through to quarter-finals
1974 West Germany164 groups of 4 but now followed with 2 groups of 4, the 2 top sides competing the final
1982 Spain246 groups of 4 followed by 4 groups of 3, the winner of each qualifying for the semi-finals
1986 Mexico246 groups of 4, top 2 sides and 4 best 3rd-placed teams qualifying for round of 16
1998 France328 groups of 4, top 2 sides progressing to knockout rounds

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