In the news this week is that FIFA are to expand the number of national teams in the 2026 World Cup finals from 32 to 48. This has come as no surprise to conspiracy theorists. The suspected motive behind this move is to give China a much better chance of qualifying.

This is because China is currently throwing loads of money at football, and FIFA has form for going into a feeding frenzy when it detects the merest whiff of cash from a developing nation. In the past China has struggled to qualify for the World Cup finals and last did so in 2002, when they lost all their games and failed to score a goal. On their return, the players were punished by having their testicles confiscated.

China’s more recent form is no better, having gone seven internationals without a win. Prior to that they did notch up victories against Qatar (controversial recipient of the 2022 finals, hmmm) and Bhutan. They beat the latter by 12 goals to nil, although Bhutan had thought they were turning up for an archery tournament and hadn’t brought their boots. As this was China’s biggest ever win their players were rewarded with new testicles, that had been willingly donated by political prisoners.

However, I can exclusively reveal that this conspiracy theory is groundless and about as likely as that nice Mr Saville being a kiddy-fiddler. There is a real conspiracy though, which this blog can now exclusively reveal.

You have to look back to a meeting that took place in May 2016 between FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino and Heaven’s deputy president, the Pope. Indeed the meeting took place only months after Infantino’s election, so he obviously couldn’t wait to leg it round to the Vatican to give thanks for his good fortune.

At the meeting FIFA allegedly (two words that always go together well) presented the Pope with a football shirt bearing the number nine and the name ‘Papa Francesco’. The truth behind the matter is that the Pope has had that shirt for a number of years.

On a recent visit to Rome to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel I thought I might as well have a look in the big church too . Unfortunately it was a summer visit and I hadn’t read the bit in The Bible where it says you aren’t allowed to enter St Peter’s Basilica wearing shorts. Not wanting to cause a scene, or risk upsetting the Almighty with my bare knees, I asked a visiting Bishop if he had any advice. He pointed me in the direction of a stall round the back of the church that sells Papally-Approved paper trousers for the covering up of offensive legs. Hence I found myself haggling with a paper trouser vendor over the extortionate price of a natty pair of pin-stripes. All of a sudden a football came sailing over a high wall and landed at my feet. A head popped up over the wall.

“Hey Mister, can I have my ball back”. It was none other than Pope Francis himself, wearing that very footy shirt. He was speaking in Latin, but I got the gist.

I threw the ball back and he disappeared. The paper-trouser vendor told me it happens all the time. In fact he described it as a ‘feckin’ nuisance’, in Italian. Apparently the Pope also gets the ball stuck on the church roof and he’s smashed several stained-glass windows with it too.

Therefore my conspiracy theory goes like this:

God defeats the Anti-Christ Blatter and triumphantly crowns Infantino as the new FIFA president. Infantino goes round to the see the Pope to get him to thank God for his new sainthood. The soccer-mad Pope shows his footy shirt to Infantino and they go for a kick-about in the back yard using cassocks as goal posts. Over half-time orange segments and fizzy pop (by the way, the Pope is leading 76-0), his holiness tells a bit of a fib and suggests that God really, really wants to be represented in the World Cup Finals. He then says that God thinks, should the Vatican get a team to the finals, that the ideal captain would be Pope Francis himself.

Infantino fearing God’s wrath, and the additional plague of boils that Pope Francis has intimated, thus struck a secret holy covenant.

So, there you have it. The expansion of the 2026 competition is all about helping The Vatican get to the Finals, and just to really seal the deal they have been drawn with Bhutan and China in the qualifiers…oh, and Scotland.

Note: If you don’t believe me that this meeting ever took place then see the coverage from the Catholic Herald (Official Newspaper of Heaven, and now Official Newspaper of the 2026 World Cup Finals) at:  http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/06/01/bring-order-and-honesty-back-to-football-pope-tells-fifa-president/

See my other Italy travel guides on Rome , Florence and Naples