Fifa chief now wants World Cup with 48 teams

Venezuela's national football team players take part in a training session at the Parque Central training center in Montevideo on Oct 4, 2016.
Venezuela's national football team players take part in a training session at the Parque Central training center in Montevideo on Oct 4, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BOGOTA • Not content with expanding the World Cup to 40 teams, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has suggested going even further and opening up the competition to 48 countries from 2026.

The proposal to expand the competition to 40 teams was part of his manifesto when he was elected to succeed the disgraced Sepp Blatter this year.

However, the former Uefa general-secretary has now gone further still and suggested that the tournament could feature 48 teams, 16 of which would go home after just one match.

The idea would see almost a quarter of Fifa's 211 members qualifying for its flagship tournament and further increase the demands on the host nation. But the idea is likely to be popular among confederations outside Europe, who have long felt disadvantaged when it comes to World Cup places.

Infantino, speaking during an event at Bogota's Sergio Aboleda University, said a final decision on the plan would be taken by the newly-expanded Fifa Council in January, according to Colombian media.

"These are ideas to find the best solution, we will debate them this month and we will decide everything by 2017," said Infantino. "They are ideas which we put forward to see which one is the best."

  • 48

    Number of teams Gianni Infantino is proposing for the 2026 World Cup.

  • 16

    Number of teams who will play just one game under the proposed format.

The Swiss-Italian, a late entrant to the Fifa presidential race when Uefa president Michel Platini was forced to withdraw over the episode that saw him eventually banned from football for four years, said he would advocate a 48-team tournament.

Infantino suggested a preliminary knockout round involving 32 teams played in the host country, with 16 winners reaching the group stage.

Another 16 seeded teams would get a bye into the group stage.

The potential expansion of the World Cup from the current 32 teams is likely to be one of the items for discussion when the Fifa Council, rebranded from the disgraced executive committee that became synonymous with the corruption scandal that brought world football to its knees, meets next week.

Germany coach Joachim Low said last weekend that he opposed plans to expand the tournament.

"I don't think it's a good idea to dilute the sporting value," the 2014 World Cup-winning coach told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview on Sunday.

He added that he had "an absolute understanding for the smaller nations who, thanks to this, could take their place on the big stage".

However, Low, who was also against enlarging the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams, said that expanded tournaments placed a greater "sporting and mental" burden on the players.

"We must be clear that, in the long term, the quality suffers. We must not overdo it."

The World Cup was expanded from 24 teams to 32 in 1994 but most proposals for further expansion involve convoluted mathematical contortions or leave open the possibility of making the group stages unbalanced.

Infantino's solution would avoid that but would leave 16 teams flying to the host country to play just one match before going home again.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Fifa chief now wants World Cup with 48 teams'. Print Edition | Subscribe