Nigeria World Cup star Garba Lawal has backed FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48, starting from the 2026 edition.
Eighty matches –16 more than the current set-up – will be played in the 48-team set-up but over the same 32 days, with two teams advancing from each group to a 32-nation knock-out round.
It’s a milestone decision under FIFA president Gianni Infantino but critics say the move is motivated by money and politics, rather than footballing reasons.
Infantino however insists it’s a decision that will give more teams the chance to experience football at the World Cup level.
“We have to shape the World Cup of the 21st Century… football is more than Europe and South America. Many more countries will have the chance to dream,” the FIFA president was quoted as saying by AFP.
Lawal, who represented Nigeria at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, has thrown his weight behind Infantino and the decision saying Africa will be a big beneficiary of the new format.
“It’s a fantastic idea and a good development for football. Africa may be entitled to between eight to 10 slots, which will improve our chances at the World Cup,” the Atlanta ’96 Olympics gold medallist stated.
“Apart from the traditional teams like Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Ghana and others, more African sides will have the opportunities to play at the World Cup and excel. It’s an avenue for European teams to scout more African talents and sign them on. It’s a big opportunity for Africa and a big challenge as well.”
FIFA critics project that expanding the World Cup to a bigger tournament will lower the quality of the tournament but Lawal disagrees.
“To qualify for the World Cup is difficult; it’s very competitive and I believe that most of the teams that will qualify for the 48-team format will have the quality to play at the World Cup,” the former Kaduna United general manager added.