Controversial but highly lucrative proposals to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 from 2026 are expected to be rubber-stamped by governing body Fifa on Tuesday.
Critics say the plans, advanced by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, will dilute the overall standard, produce less exciting matches and could increase the likelihood of teams colluding.
Germany is the only major nation to oppose the reforms, however, which would generate an additional $1bn (£822m) in revenue compared to the current format, according to Fifa estimates.
Expansion also promises to provoke a fresh round of wrangling over how the 16 extra places are allocated, with European countries’ current dominant position almost certain to be weakened.
Fifa’s council must choose from five possible formats for future World Cups, but the only one considered likely to succeed is Infantino’s proposal for a tournament comprised of 16 groups of three teams.
Group winners and runners-up would progress to the last 32, from where the competition would continue in a knock-out format.
The total number of matches would increase from 64 to 80 but, as with the existing format, could be completed in 32 days and would involve no more than seven games for the eventual winners.
Expanded format worth $1bn extra revenue
Fifa projections forecast that the 48-team, 16×3 format would generate revenue of $6.5bn (£5.3bn) – an increase of around $1bn on the $5.5bn (£4.5bn) income expected at next year’s tournament in Russia.
Internal consultation documents also acknowledge that expanding the World Cup would “present some issues which would need to be address regarding balance”.
It adds that the favoured 16×3 format “would only face issues relating to an odd number of teams in group stage”, such as “simultaneous kick-offs”, which threatens the integrity of the competition.
Penalty shoot-outs in group games
One solution to some of those issues suggested by Fifa is to take the unprecedented measure of deciding drawn group stage games by a penalty shoot-out.
Germany’s top football official Reinhard Grindel says the plans “have considerable weaknesses”.
Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn has said England would prefer to “keep the tournament smaller” but could not prevent the reforms being passed.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are thought likely to support the expansion, which Infantino has touted as good for smaller nations.