FIFA chief slams opponents of his new World order
FIFA president has Gianni Infantino hit back at European nations who are resistant to the new expanded 48-team World Cup, telling the implacably opposed Germans that they always qualify and must wake up to the reality of this century, rather than live in the last one.
FIFA's 37-man Council unanimously agreed that the tournament will now begin with 16 groups of three teams, with the top two advancing into a 32-team knockout stage.
In the new format, there will be a total of 80 games - six more than the current 32-team schedules.
European places at the competition will likely rise from 13 to 16. Africa and Asia could have as many as nine teams each. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil they had five and four teams respectively.
Infantino insisted that the countries which perennially qualify must be more broader-minded.
"Even if you organise a World Cup with two teams, one of the two teams would be Germany," said Infantino, who joked that 48 teams would help "get England" to the 2026 finals.
"Germany are the world champions, a top team, which qualifies regularly, who win regularly. It's obvious that whatever format you have, Germany will be there," he said.
"But for many other countries, it's a chance to qualify. It is a chance to participate in a big event. It's not the 20th century any more. It's the 21st century. Football is more than Europe and South America. Football is global.
"The football fever you have in a country that qualifies for the World Cup is the most powerful tool you can have, in those nine months before qualifying and the finals."
According Infantino, penalty shoot-outs may be used to decide group-stage games that end in a draw.
An alternative, Infantino said, would be for finishing positions in groups to be decided on "rankings".
Infantino said as much as $1 billion in extra revenue would go into "football development", but he was not specific.
The extended format is likely to be introduced for the 2026 finals, which could be jointly hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Victor Montagliani, the head of Concacaf, said: "The decision was made on the facts and the figures - not on, hey, a wink and a nod.
"Maybe the time has come when we don't do things on a wink and a nod any more."
While the Canadian Montagliani claimed there was "no opposition - period", Spain, Germany and the European Club Association, which called it a "political" move, criticised the growth from 32 to 48 teams.
Spain's La Liga president, Javier Tebas, told 'L'Equipe': "Infantino behaves like (Sepp) Blatter. He also made decisions alone without consulting anyone about them.
"I'm very angry. It is easy to expand this competition without having to pay the players.
"The football industry is maintained thanks to clubs and leagues, not FIFA."
The ECA said in a statement: "We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives.
"Questionable is also the urgency in reaching such an important decision, with nine years to go until it becomes applicable, without the proper involvement of stakeholders who will be impacted by this change.
"We understand that this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable."
While the FAI declined to comment, the English FA is said to be resigned to the change, which was supported by the Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland and their Scottish counterparts.
The Scottish FA was one of the first minor nations to publicly approve expansion, with chief executive Stewart Regan claiming: "This will also allow these nations to invest further in their footballing infrastructure and youth development, which in turn can yield significant social benefits.
"The exploits of Wales, Iceland, and Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 showed what an impact the smaller teams can have, and how beneficial to a tournament their participation can be.
"A greater eclectic mix of footballing cultures at the Fifa World Cup will create a bigger and better atmosphere than ever."
Independent News Service