Perhaps driven by political and financial considerations, soccer's governing body voted Friday to expand the World Cup to 32 teams from 24 starting with the 1998 tournament.
The decision, taken after FIFA president Joao Havelange promised an expanded tournament as part of his re-election campaign, was made in a unanimous vote by FIFA's executive committee. Twelve additional games promise to generate more revenue from the most-watched sporting event in the world.The tournament's first round will expand to eight groups of four, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the second round. Currently, there are six groups with the top two teams and the four best third-place teams advancing.
This summer's World Cup calls for 52 games in 31 days in nine U.S. cities. The decision to play the 1998 tournament in France was made two years ago.
"The competition will not take longer. We don't need more stadiums," FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said.
FIFA didn't decide on the allocation of teams, saying it probably would make the decision at the executive committee's meeting in December.
"A global look will be taken at the performance of the teams from all continents, not only how they have fared at this World Cup, but also longer term," Herren said.