Ross Fletcher comments on 2026 World Cup expansion to 48 teams

USMNT supporters should have Jeremy Ebobisse on their radars in the next few years. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
USMNT supporters should have Jeremy Ebobisse on their radars in the next few years. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

Ross Fletcher’s 16-year sports broadcasting career provides the current Fox Sports presenter with a global perspective on FIFA’s recent announcement.

I asked Fletcher to comment on FIFA’s decision to expand the 2016 World Cup field to 48 teams. The former Seattle Sounders FC play-by-play man shared his thoughts on the various implications and opportunities.

Below are Fletcher’s edited responses:

1. Your thoughts on FIFA’s decision to have 48 teams participating  in the 2026 World Cup?

Ross Fletcher: There’s been a rumbling inevitability about an expanded World Cup. The bigger field for France ’98 really set it in motion. It’s no surprise that a 48-team format will happen. It’s likely to be the most lucrative option for FIFA. It’s pretty clear it will dilute the quality in the early stages. Euro’16 proved that bigger isn’t always better in terms of the on field product.

2. Does this dilute the WC qualifiers with so many teams progressing?

Fletcher: Essentially, yes. Especially if the proposal to allow 6.5 CONCACAF members to qualify holds true. That would render the current Hex unworkable It’s not that competitive given the overall lack of quality depth in the region. The new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani is in favor of changing the qualifying format but I can’t see how it will add much extra spark or intrigue.

3. There are rumors of CONCEBOL and CONCACAF merging for WC qualifiers. We could have Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, etc. playing against US and Mexico. Do you think this is feasible or possible?

Fletcher: If true it would certainly add spice from a CONCACAF point of view and US fans would relish playing the top teams in South America. I’m not sure it would help their chances of qualification, given the standard of CONCACAF’s other teams. I don’t think the likes of Argentina and Brazil would fancy the extra travel and uncertainty it would add, particularly as the FIFA windows mean teams are playing Friday and Tuesday. Domestic teams are wary enough already of their players traveling long distances to play for their countries and then returning injured. Bayern Munich and Chile’s Arturo Vidal being a recent case in point. I can see plenty of opposition from clubs.

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4. With an expanded field, doesn’t this shape up for a jointly hosted North American (US, Canada and Mexico) World Cup in 2026?

Fletcher: That would be a terrific scenario from a North American perspective. I can see a joint World Cup between all three nations happening. There’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of stadia and infrastructure already in place. It would be great for the development of the sport in both the US and Canada for soccer romantics, and great to see another World Cup in the Azteca Stadium.