‘Football is more than Europe and South America’ – Infantino champions expanded World Cup

‘Football is more than Europe and South America’ – Infantino champions expanded World Cup

The FIFA president claims a 48-team tournament shows that world football’s governing body are embracing those nations outside of the elite

FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes the decision to expand the World Cup is a crucial step for football in the 21st century.

The governing body voted unanimously to implement a 48-team format for the competition in 2026, with teams to be divided into 16 groups of three.

Football associations from countries including Scotland and Nigeria have expressed support for the change that will theoretically allow traditionally less heralded teams the chance to qualify for the global showpiece.

However, Germany opposed the idea before the vote and the European Club Association has accused FIFA of making the decision based on political rather than sporting grounds.

But Infantino, speaking to the media after the result of the vote, said: “Even if we organised a World Cup with two teams, one would be Germany, obviously – [they are] the world champions. Whatever format you have, Germany will be there.

“For many other countries it’s a chance to qualify, to participate. It’s one month every four years and it stays at one month. So there’s actually not a big change, except for the format and for giving many more teams a chance to participate.

“I hope that, with time, they can see the benefit for the world. There are many players in the Bundesliga from around the world. It’s nice for these players to have a chance to participate in an event like the World Cup.

“There is a dialogue open with the ECA for many years. I know them very well personally. There are some critical voices from some clubs but I prefer to focus on the positive ones.

“There are a lot who favour this decision. We have of course discussed this topic several times with the clubs. The main point was always not to add to the calendar and the burden of the players.

“We’re in the 21st century and we have to shape the World Cup for the 21st century. We have to look at football as more than just Europe and South America.

“Football fever in a country that qualifies is the biggest promotional tool for football that you can have. From November when you qualify to June when it takes place, these nine months are the most important.”

Infantino explained that the decision over how the extra qualifying spots will be allocated will not be taken before a host for the tournament has been named.

“The decision on the slots has not been taken because it’s not necessary to take it yet. We have to make sure that the bidding process for 2026 is absolutely bullet-proof.

“How many teams from different countries is not necessary for the documents for the bidding process. But it’s important and we will look at it speedily.”

Infantino also stressed that the prospect of penalty shootouts in group matches that end in a draw is simply one possible option being explored, as FIFA looks to prevent situations where teams deliberately play for stalemates to help each other progress.

He also suggested that a team’s place in the FIFA ranking could be taken into account should teams finish level on points and goal difference.

“This is to be decided a few years before the event, it’s not for now,” he said. “It was just to say that there are some different models of deciding if there is an equality of points.

“We have rules now for things like this, like goal difference, but in a group of three there’s a higher chance of having equality of teams in goal difference and points.

“You could say the ranking decides, which is objective and decided before the tournament. But this will be decided closer to the tournament.”

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