Infantino backs 40-team Cup plan, denies misdeed in TV deal

LOS ANGELES • Fifa president Gianni Infantino has defended his controversial plan to expand the World Cup to 40 teams, rejecting criticism the move would dilute the quality of football's showpiece event.

In an interview with Fox Sports 1 on Wednesday, the chief of world football's governing body pointed to the expansion of teams at Euro 2016 as evidence that the 32-team World Cup could successfully accommodate more sides.

"(Uefa) was criticised at the time by people saying, 'That's almost half of the teams, the qualifiers will be as boring as ever, no one will be interested'," Infantino explained.

"And the exact opposite came true - which is that it was great from a sporting point of view because many more teams have a chance to qualify, which means many, many more teams have the dream to qualify.

"It was great and it will be great for the World Cup in terms of popularity. Because you will have more nations involved in the World Cup. There is enough quality - we see it in Europe," said Infantino, citing the results of the so-called minnows at the 2014 World Cup.

"Look at the last World Cup - England and Italy were kicked out by Costa Rica. This is football," he said.

Infantino said exactly how the eight extra spots would be distributed throughout the world had yet to be confirmed.

However, he indicated Africa would be the biggest beneficiary, with two extra places, while Asia would also get an extra place and a play-off spot.

"There would be of course more spots for everyone," he said.

"For example, two more Africans, one and a half in Concacaf, half in South America, half in Oceania, one and a half in Asia, we arrive at 39.

"And the last spot should be played on the pitch somehow, let's see how, by the one who will deserve it in the best possible way."

Infantino, meanwhile, has again shrugged off any wrongdoing for signing a contract with two businessmen indicted in the United States, describing allegations in the Panama Papers documents as a "non-story".

Infantino, at the time an official with Uefa, signed a contract with Argentinian businessmen Hugo and Mariano Jinikis, owners of Cross Trading, for the South American broadcast rights to Europe's Champions League competition.

The pair were among several dozen soccer officials who were last year indicted in the United States as part of a huge corruption scandal which has swept the game and thrown Fifa into turmoil.

"I think Uefa has made it very clear. And I have made it very clear, that this whole situation is basically a non-story," he said. "Everything has been done completely transparently and properly."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Infantino backs 40-team Cup plan, denies misdeed in TV deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe