MIAMI (AFP) - Fifa moved a step closer on Friday (March 15) to expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams and hopes to confirm the plans in June if a suitable co-host can be found.
An internal feasibility study supporting the expansion, which is being strongly pushed by president Gianni Infantino, was given full backing by the Fifa council in Miami.
A final decision will now be taken in Paris on June 6 after Fifa and Qatar jointly submit the names of potential co-host nations to the governing body's Congress.
Infantino, who also confirmed a new Club World Cup with 24 teams will begin in 2021 to replace the Confederations Cup, told a press conference: "You have in front of you a happy Fifa president.
"I am always happy but especially today because we have taken some important decisions.
"We came to conclusion, yes it's feasible to move from 32 to 48 teams at the World Cup provided certain conditions are met.
"Since we decided in January 2017 that we should increase teams in 2026, and following a request from the 10 South American associations whether it is feasible to do this for 2022.
"We have the duty to look into it, 90 percent are in favour of an increase but it's not as easy as that. We have to analyse matters carefully and we are working closely with Qatar."
The move away from the traditional 32 teams which will see 80 matches instead of 64 - the notion was originally slated to come into effect for the 2026 tournament in North America - means one or more other countries will be asked to help Qatar stage the shortened 28-day event which is scheduled to kick off in November 2022.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and United Arab Emirates are all potential options yet rancorous diplomatic disputes has led to the tiny Gulf state being politically isolated from many of its former allies.
'MORE THE MERRIER'
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will need to end their diplomatic blockade of Qatar launched in 2017 if they want to be involved, Fifa's feasibility study said.
"We know the situation in the Gulf region," added Infantino. "We are in the lucky position of being in football, and that means you can only care about football. I was pleased with the reaction of the Qataris. We don't want to regret not analysing the decision."
For the 2026 tournament in North America, 60 games will be held in the United States with Canada and Mexico getting 10 games each.
A similar division is anticipated for 2022, with Qatar retaining the bulk of the matches while Infantino moved to allay fears the increase in teams could dilute the quality of the tournament.
"The more the merrier," the Fifa supremo said.
A Fifa document on Thursday said an expanded 2022 tournament would use the same format planned for 2026, with the six regional confederations receiving the same number of qualifying slots allocated for the tournament in North America.
Fifa, meanwhile, have been told that the leading European clubs will boycott a Club World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 2021 which was also given the go-ahead at the meeting in Florida.
A 17-page report distributed to the 37 members of Fifa's ruling body calls for the new tournament to take place between June 17 and July 4 2021, replacing the Confederations Cup international tournament.
Infantino called the decision to move ahead with the plans an "important milestone for world football" and expects no problems moving forward.
"We should enjoy what is coming," he said.
But the European Club Association (ECA) said leading European clubs would boycott the event.
An ECA spokesman told AFP: "ECA clubs will not participate in the Club World Cup in 2021 and will assess participation in the Club World Cup in 2024."
There was also confirmation from FIFA that the video assistant referee system (VAR) will be used at the women's World Cup this summer.