Sunday 22 July 2018

Infantino refuses to close door on next World Cup being expanded to 48 teams

 

'Infantino has defended the idea of welcoming more sides into the competition' Photo: AP/Francisco Seco
'Infantino has defended the idea of welcoming more sides into the competition' Photo: AP/Francisco Seco

Daniel McDonnell in Moscow

FIFA President Gianni Infantino remains open to the idea of making the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a 48-team tournament.

World football's governing body have already voted to expand the competition from 32 to 48 teams from 2026 and there will be no going back on that divisive plan.

And Infantino said yesterday that the prospect of the expansion taking place for the next renewal remains a possibility.

Before the start of this World Cup, Infantino had appeared to rule out that prospect, but he said at yesterday's end-of-tournament press conference in Moscow that a decision will be made within a 'few months' after discussions with the authorities in Qatar.

A change would have implications for Ireland, with the number of European slots due to rise from 13 to 16 for the new format.

It would present logistical problems, however, with the amount of games rising from 64 to 80 and that might prove beyond Qatar as they are currently in the process of trying to meet the initial requirements.

"For now it's a World Cup with 32 teams but everybody is open-minded and we will have a frank and open debate," said Infantino.

Critics

"We will decide in the next few months. We must have discussions with the Qataris and then, if there is a possibility, we will talk about it with the FIFA Council and stakeholders. Then we will decide calmly what the decision is. If we do have 48 teams, there will be more slots for everyone."

Infantino has defended the idea of welcoming more sides into the competition - whenever it does come to pass - by stating that it will help to grow the game, although critics argue that the bottom line is boosting FIFA profits and the cost of that will be the dilution of quality and a confusing format of 16 groups containing three teams.

"48 teams is less than 25 percent of the FIFA members so I think it's still a reasonable number," said Infantino. "The quality is certainly there.

"There is nothing more powerful than participating in an event like the World Cup to boost football in a country. Panama participated for the first time, they scored two goals and they celebrated the first goal like they had won the World Cup.

"This is the World Cup, and it's had a big impact in Panama and in Central America. This is what we have to do.

"We took a decision, we analysed it very thoroughly and we decided unanimously to extend the number of teams from 32 to 48.

"In this World Cup, we had teams who regularly participated in World Cups who did not qualify. Italy, Holland, Chile - the champions of South America - and Cameroon, who are the champions of Africa."

However, Infantino offered the view that Russia 2018 has been the best ever World Cup - referencing the fact that there has only been one scoreless draw in the first 62 games - although his definitive statement was tied in with his praise for the hosts.

"For a couple of years, I was saying that this will be the best World Cup ever. Today I can say it even more, with more conviction... It is the best World Cup ever."

Infantino confirmed that the 2022 competition will kick-off on November 21 with the final set for December 18, with leagues around the world given advance notice so they can construct a plan to cope with a long break in the middle of a regular campaign.

Irish Independent

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