Cup expansion on the cards despite misgivings
Send a link to a friend
[January 07, 2017]
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH, Jan 6 (Reuters) - FIFA is set
to ignore the old adage about not messing with a winning formula by
approving president Gianni Infantino's plans to expand the World
The 37-member FIFA Council, which makes strategic decisions for
soccer's governing body, will on Tuesday decide whether to increase
the tournament from the current 32 teams to either 40 or 48,
starting in 2026.
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.
A spokesman for the European governing body UEFA offered little
enthusiasm, saying it was "currently gathering feedback from its
national associations - which are the ones directly impacted by any
The association representing Europe's most powerful clubs, already
struggling to nurse players through long domestic seasons, last
month wrote to Infantino to say that that "politics and commerce
should not be the exclusive priority in football".
But even if the Europeans oppose the expansion, Infantino's comment
suggests they will be in a minority.
TRIED AND TESTED
Critics say it would be wrong to change a 32-team format that, in
2014 in Brazil, produced a tournament of exhilarating football,
unpredictable results and few meaningless or hopelessly one-sided
German football boss Reinhard Grindel said on Thursday that FIFA
should stick to its "tried and tested formula", and that all of the
possible alternatives had "considerable weaknesses".
[to top of second column]
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.
"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 teams of four, where the group winners and six best
runners-up would progress.
Grindel said the first choice would lead to "a large number of
matches where teams would be just playing for pride", and the latter
could leave some second-placed teams waiting for up to four days to
find out whether they had qualified.
"Past World Cups have always been tournaments that have enthused
players, spectators and sponsors alike," he said. "So why change
it?" (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.