World Cup: Qatar 2022 is the best World Cup ever, says Infantino

Fifa president Gianni Infantino is grateful to all who have played a part in the first World Cup held in the Middle East. PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA – Fifa president Gianni Infantino has declared the Qatar World Cup the “best ever” and because of its success “on all fronts”, world football’s governing body is now considering keeping the same format for the 2026 edition in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of Saturday’s third-place play-off between Croatia and Morocco, and Sunday’s final between Argentina and France, the 52-year-old was grateful to all who have played a part in the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Thanks to everyone involved, Qatar, all the volunteers to make this the best World Cup ever,” he said on Friday.

“Matches have been played without incidents, and there is something happening when we talk about football becoming truly global, with an African team (Morocco) reaching the semi-final for the first time.

“We also had a woman (Stephanie Frappart) referee a match for the first time. The World Cup has been an incredible success on all fronts.

“The main one being the fans, the behaviour, the joyful atmosphere, the bringing of people together. The fans meeting the Arab world, it has been very important for the future of all of us.

“When it comes to the matches, we have seen some incredibly competitive games, some surprises, some great goals.”

The Qatar World Cup has indeed witnessed some surprises, with underdogs Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea clinching upset wins over the top guns, and this competitiveness is something that Infantino enjoys.

The 2026 edition is due to have 48 teams instead of 32, with 16 three-team groups and the top two progressing to the knockout stages. What this means is that groups may not be as closely fought as it has been in Qatar.

Several groups in Qatar – in the traditional blocks of four – went down to the wire, with qualification hanging in the balance until the final whistle.

“The groups of four have been absolutely incredible until the last minute of the last match,” said Infantino.

“I have to say after this World Cup, and the success of the groups of four, we have to revisit or rediscuss the format – whether we go for 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four.”

The Fifa chief also announced that Morocco will host the 2022 Club World Cup from Feb 1-11, while the planned expanded version of the competition is now set to start in 2025.

An expanded Club World Cup has long been a pet project of Infantino’s. A 24-team event, featuring eight teams from Europe, had been due to take place in China in 2021 but was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The new competition will take place in 2025 and will feature 32 teams, making it really like a World Cup,” the Swiss-Italian added, without offering further details.

Morocco hosted the Club World Cup in 2013 and again in 2014, while the most recent edition was held in the United Arab Emirates in February, with English Premier League club Chelsea lifting the trophy.

The competition is set to continue in its existing format for now, featuring the champions of the six continental federations along with the top team from the host nation.

Real Madrid, who won the 2014 Club World Cup in Morocco, will represent Europe after winning the 2021-22 Uefa Champions League title.

Flamengo of Brazil, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, Seattle Sounders from the United States and New Zealand’s Auckland City are the other continental champions.

Finally, when asked about what he would take from the Qatar World Cup, Infantino said: “What has been achieved here in the Middle East has been quite unique. Everyone goes home with a nice memory and I am sure they will come back.

“Only the World Cup can do this in such a massive, massive way.

“It has to be an ambition and mission of Fifa to organise its events in new countries.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.