Rwandan President, Paul Kagame on Thursday, March 16, said he was positive about the increased engagement and visibility for African teams at future World Cup tournaments, following FIFA’s decision to up the number of teams participating at the tournament.
Kagame was addressing delegates at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Kigali.
The 2026 World Cup will have 104 matches instead of the traditional 64 games due to the expanded format with 48 teams taking part, according to one of the resolutions by the FIFA council on March 14.
The 2026 edition, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will be the first edition of the quadrennial tournament where 48 teams take part. The final will be held on July 19.
“I welcome the expansion of the number of teams participating in the next World Cup. Under this format, the slots available for African teams will almost double, creating even more engagement and visibility on our continent.”
Developing African football
What is important is the plan to continue developing football in Africa and anchoring the sport here, Kagame said.
“We need to protect and nurture national football.”
Referring to the African Cup of Nations tournament, Kagame pointed out that football built on the continent can have as much value as it does in the places African players tend to go to pursue their careers.
“Often, the difference between a successful player in Africa and Europe is not talent; It is the lack of quality infrastructure, training and support.
“Of course each federation and association has the responsibility to fill these gaps, but working together we can reach our common objectives more quickly.”
A look at the new format
According to FIFA, the new format will stick to drawing four teams in a group after a proposal for a three-team group was shot down over fears of collusion.
The number of groups will increase from eight to 12.
The original plan for the 2026 edition had 80 matches.
Traditionally, the top two teams from each group advance to the last 16.
But the 2026 edition will also have the eight best third-placed teams moving into the knockout round of 32.
“The FIFA Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the FIFA World Cup 2026 competition format” FIFA said in a statement after the meeting.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams.”
The men’s World Cup will increase from 32 teams to 48 for the next edition in North America in 2026.
The women’s World Cup will feature 32 teams for the first time in Australia and New Zealand later this year. This means that Africa will potentially have up to 10 slots available, up from the current five.
The 32-team 2022 World Cup in Qatar had 64 matches completed in 29 days.
When Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994) hosted the World Cup, there were 24 teams.
The tournament has had 32 teams since the 1998 edition, with eight groups of four and the finalists playing seven games each.
But teams reaching the summit clash in 2026 will play eight matches in total.