FIFA pres­i­dent In­fantino lean­ing to­ward a 48-team World Cup

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Af­ter cam­paign­ing for a 40-team World Cup, FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino is now lean­ing to­ward an even big­ger ex­pan­sion to 48.

In­fantino said he is also warm­ing to the in­tro­duc­tion of video re­plays to pre­vent ref­er­ee­ing er­rors.

Ini­tial live tests dur­ing two friendly matches this year over­came his skep­ti­cism about the tech­nol­ogy, he said. He hopes re­plays will be avail­able for the 2018 World Cup, ar­gu­ing that it is "para­dox­i­cal" that tele­vi­sion au­di­ences and spec­ta­tors with mo­bile phones can now im­me­di­ately see re­plays but ref­er­ees can't.

His pro­posed ex­pan­sion of the 2026 World Cup from the cur­rent 32-team for­mat was among top­ics that In­fantino dis­cussed dur­ing his two days of meet­ings with of­fi­cials from about 20 largely French-speak­ing soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tions. The gath­er­ing was the first of 11 such sum­mits In­fantino has sched­uled through March 2017.

"Ev­ery­one wants an ex­pan­sion," he said. "Some fa­vor 40 teams, oth­ers 48."

The 40-team for­mat that In­fantino ini­tially promised when cam­paign­ing for the FIFA pres­i­dency, which he won in Fe­bru­ary, would be math­e­mat­i­cally clunky. The 48team pro­posal would see 16 teams go home af­ter play­ing just one game in a new open­ing play­off round. The 16 play­off win­ners would then join 16 seeded teams to be­gin a 32-team group stage that fol­lows the cur­rent World Cup for­mat, which will still be used in 2018 and 2022.

With 48 teams, there would be 80 matches in­stead of the cur­rent 64 and, In­fantino ar­gued, more sus­tained fer­vor in more parts of the world.

A de­ci­sion will be made on whether to ex­pand the tour­na­ment on Jan. 9-10 when the FIFA Coun­cil meets in Zurich.

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