agrees to expand World Cup to 48 teams
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[January 10, 2017]
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA has voted to
expand the World Cup to 48 teams from its current 32, brushing aside
concerns that the expansion would lower the overall standard of the
tournament, and make it too big and unwieldy.
Soccer's governing body said on its Twitter feed that the FIFA
Council, its decision-making panel, had voted unanimously in favor
of the change which will be introduced at the 2026 tournament.
The new format will include a first round of 16 groups of three
teams, FIFA said, with further details to be given later.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who replaced the disgraced Sepp
Blatter in February, had made World Cup expansion one of his
promises during his successful electoral campaign.
Infantino had initially suggested a 40-team tournament but then
added another eight to that total in October.
FIFA's 211 member associations each hold one vote in the
presidential election and 135 of them have never played at a World
Cup, so expansion of the tournament was always likely to appeal.
Those who have never qualified include 41 out of 54 of its African
members and 10 out of 11 members in the Oceania region.
Critics have said that FIFA is tampering with a winning formula.
The ECA, the association which represents more than 200 European
clubs, said the decision was based on "political reasons rather than
sporting ones" and taken "under considerable political pressure."
"We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that
has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives," it said
in a statement, adding it would address the issue in more detail at
the end of the month.
The pressure group New FIFA Now, which has campaigned for reform of
FIFA, was also critical.
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A street sweeper removes snow in front of FIFA headquarters in
Zurich, Switzerland, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
"It will not help development of the game or provide improved
competitive opportunities for lower-ranked nations," it said in a
statement. "Instead, it will make a mockery of the qualification
process for most confederations."
The last World Cup in Brazil was widely regarded as one of the best
in the competition's 87-year-old history, featuring shock results,
last minute drama and outstanding individual performances.
Another worry with the new format is that there could be a number of
matches at the end of the group stage where both teams know exactly
which result will send them into the next stage.
The qualifying competition, meanwhile, is likely to become a mere
formality for many of the strongest teams.
The inaugural World Cup in Uruguay featured just 13 teams and 17
matches. Sixteen teams took part from 1934, eight more were added
from 1982 onwards and, finally, another eight in 1998.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar)
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