FIFA Meets To Expand World Cup Teams To 40 or 48

The Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) will meet on Tuesday to consider expansion of World Cup teams to either 40 or 48.

The only open question ahead of Tuesday meeting on the issue by the council of the ruling body FIFA seems to be whether the expansion from the current 32 teams to 40 or 48 from 2026 onwards will be approved on the day or at a later stage.

Big football nations including champions Germany and England are sceptical when it comes to World Cup expansion but raising the number of teams at football’s showcase event is all but a foregone conclusion.
Also to be decided, but not on Tuesday, is a new allocation of continental berths.

Gianni Infantino made expansion one of the topics in his presidential campaign, and has been floating several tournament format ideas since being elected FIFA president in 11 months ago.

He says he has big support from the 211 national associations as smaller nations are naturally in favour of getting a better chance of making it to the World Cup.

English FA chief executive officer Martin Glenn has admitted that nothing will stop the expansion.

“I can’t influence FIFA; we’re one voice out of 211. Our preference would be to keep the tournament smaller, because there’s a quality factor here, but we’ll try to influence the shape of it,” The Guardian on Sunday quoted him as saying.

“Everyone has a vote and the smaller countries understandably want to be part of the competition.”

In Germany, the chairman of champions Bayern Munich and the European Club Association, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, told Sport Bild that “a World Cup with 48 teams is a wrong signal.

“Only political reasons, and not sport, are counting here. I can’t understand why a successful format with 32 teams, which has proven successful in every aspect with the fans, is to be replaced,” he said.

The key to appease the critics will be the number of matches per team in a new format, with two proposals each with 40 and 48 teams to be discussed.

One of the 40-team plans is having eight groups of five teams with the winners and runners-up advancing to the knock-outs, leading to 80 group matches and 96 overall, 32 more that the current total of 64 games, and a maximum eight matches for a team.

The favoured idea appears to be 16 groups of three teams from which the top two advance to the last 32, with penalties to decide tied group matches after 90 minutes which however would be a big change to football culture. This tournament would have 80 games in total and seven for the top nations.

Less quality through an expanded field is one of the arguments of the critics which also include Germany coach Joachim Loew, an issue that was also raised during Euro 2016 which saw 24 teams instead of 16 from the past.

For most though keeping the maximum number of games for a team at seven is the most important issue in order to protect the big nations and players in an already full calendar.

The players union FIFPro has signalled support if this condition is met and the tournament is still played in just over four weeks; and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has also given his nod.

“As a club manager, if the expansion meant more games, less holidays and less pre-season for players, I would say no. But it’s important for critics to analyse and understand that expansion doesn’t mean more matches,” Mourinho told the FIFA website.

“The expansion means that the World Cup will be even more of an incredible social event … More nations taking part means more passion, more happiness, more enthusiasm.”

The pros and cons were also summed up by the Hungarian coach of German Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin, Pal Dardai.

“It is nice for a small country like Hungary. For the big nations it is annoying. The big stars are exhausted in the first place and then there are even more games,” he said. (DPA)

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