By Andrew Warshaw
December 28 – Despite fierce opposition from Europe’s clubs and the danger of the quality being diluted, FIFA’s member federations are “overwhelmingly in favour” of plans for a 48-team World Cup, almost certainly starting in 2026, according to Gianni Infantino.
Infantino has used a platform in Dubai to re-iterate that the proposed move from 32 teams has widespread support.
Initially the new FIFA president floated the idea of an opening playoff round for 32 of the 48 finalists but that did not gain sufficiently strong support and his “preferred” blueprint has apparently been communicated to FIFA Council members for examination ahead of their January 9-10 session in Zurich.
Under the proposed change, all finalists would start out in 16 groups of three teams. The top two would advance to a new round of 32, with the third-placed team going home after two matches. The two World Cup finalists themselves would still play a total of seven games.
“I’m still convinced about expanding the number of participating teams at the World Cup beyond 32 teams,” Infantino told the International Sports Conference in Dubai.
“We are still considering whether to increase the number to 40 or 48 teams. A format of 48 teams would be played over the same period as the current format, and the federations are all clearly in favour of a World Cup with more teams.”
Altogether five options are reported to have been put forward for a decision by Council next month. FIFA has apparently concluded that the 48-team (16×3) format offers the best value to broadcasters and sponsors.
Expanding the World Cup for the first time since 1998 was an integral part of Infantino’s election manifesto and would clearly be financially appealing to most confederations but it may not all be plain sailing at the January Council session. UEFA has so far refused to endorse the idea and it remains to be seen whether Infantino has acted too hastily when the ground-breaking change is put to the vote.
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