7 Jan 2017

FIFA expected to expand World Cup

10:18 am on 7 January 2017

FIFA look set to ignore the old adage about not messing with a winning formula by approving president Gianni Infantino's plans to expand the World Cup.

The 37-member FIFA Council will decide next week whether to increase the tournament from the current 32 teams to either 40 or 48, starting in 2026.

Fifa World Cup trophy

Fifa World Cup trophy Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Infantino, elected last February to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, pledged during his campaign to enlarge the tournament - a promise designed especially to appeal to the bulk of FIFA's 211 member associations that rarely or never qualify for World Cups.

Infantino now says he has "overwhelming support" for his plans.

The Council's nine European representatives seem least likely to support the change.

But even if the Europeans oppose the expansion, Infantino's comment suggests they will be in a minority.

Critics say it would be wrong to change a 32-team format that, in Brazil in 2014, produced a tournament of exhilarating football, unpredictable results and few meaningless or hopelessly one-sided matches.

German football head Reinhard Grindel says FIFA should stick to its "tried and tested formula", and that all of the possible alternatives had "considerable weaknesses".

Infantino has said his preferred option is for a 48-team tournament that would start with 16 groups of three teams, where the top two would qualify for a knock-out round of 32.

Gianni Infantino.

Gianni Infantino. Photo: Photosport

"For this alternative, the draw would probably have to be abolished to avoid tactical behaviour in final group matches," said Grindel.

"But having extra-time and penalties in the group stage is itself problematic, adding organisational difficulties to an already higher number of matches."

Infantino has also proposed a preliminary round of 16 knockout ties, with the winners joining 16 seeded teams in a 32-team group phase.

"This would lengthen the tournament by one week for half of the participating teams, and considerably increase the burden on the players," Grindel warned.

There are also two proposals for a 40-team World Cup - the first featuring eight groups of five teams in the first round; and the second with 10 pools of four, where the group winners and six best runners-up would progress.

- Reuters