FIFA Chief Raises Prospect of 48-Team World Cup

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(WFI) The FIFA president has floated the idea of expanding the World Cup to 48 teams.

While the move will be welcomed by smaller nations, it has already been criticized for diluting the value of FIFA’s quadrennial showpiece.

Gianni Infantino made expansion to 40 teams part of his election manifesto, widening his appeal to voters at the February FIFA congress that eventually elected him to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter.

Under his new plan for the 2026 World Cup, he says 16 of the 48 teams would go home after one match of a preliminary knock-out round. This would leave 32 teams to compete in the group stage and vie for places in the knockout phase.

"These are ideas to find the best solution. We will debate them this month and we will decide everything by 2017 [by FIFA Council]," Infantino was quoted as saying by Reuters at an event in Bogota's Sergio Arboleda university.

"The idea is that 16 teams would qualify directly to the group stage and the other 32 would play in a preliminary phase, in the country where the World Cup is being played - they would play for the remaining 16 places," Infantino added.

"It means we continue with a normal World Cup for 32 teams, but 48 teams go to the party.”

Germany coach Joachim Loew was one of the first to criticize Infantino’s plan, which would represent the first expansion of the tournament since the World Cup grew from 24 to 32 teams in 1994.

"I don't think its a good idea to dilute the sporting value,” he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper, according to DPA.

However, he had sympathy with the smaller countries eyeing Infantino’s plan as an opportunity “who, thanks to this, could take their place on the big stage”.

Infantino’s ambitious World Cup expansion plans will be discussed at next week’s FIFA Council meeting in Zurich.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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