World Cup increase slammed as ‘political’
Critics of Fifa’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams were quick to blast it as a politically and money-driven ploy that will be detrimental to football tournament.
But there was support — particularly in Asia and Africa — for Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s expansion plan, unanimously approved by Fifa’s ruling council on Tuesday and to be implemented at the 2026 World Cup.
In Germany, the reigning World Cup winners, reaction was mixed.
“I am not happy with the decision and would have wished that all the important questions about the organisation and the format had been completely resolved,” said Reinhard Grindel, president of the German Football Association.”
Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said he could “understand everyone who feels the increase of the field is a dilution [in the quality of the tournament]”.
“Also for me, the increase to 48 teams for the biggest and the most important tournament in the world feels like it’s too much,” he said.
Berti Vogts, who won the 1974 World Cup with Germany and went on to coach his country, did not hold back.
“I’m very, very appalled, I don’t want to believe it,” he said. “It’s terrible. If you want to ruin something, this is the path you should take. I just don’t understand it.”
Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish league, made no attempt to hide his disgust.
“Fifa is doing politics. Gianni Infantino is doing politics,” he thundered.
“To be elected, he promised more countries at the World Cup. He wants to honour his electoral promises. But the promises made to professional football, he’s not sticking to.”
Football’s powerful European Club Association also reiterated its opposition, describing the current 32-team model as “the perfect formula”.
New Fifa Now, a campaign group that says the scandalplagued governing body needs to reform, labelled the expansion “a money grab and power grab”. “It will dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans,” it said.
A confidential Fifa report projects a 48-team tournament would bring a cash boost of $640m above projected revenues for next year’s finals in Russia. Infantino said Tuesday’s move would allow more countries to “dream” of qualifying for the World Cup — Africa and Asia could be the big winners with a rise in their number of places.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic said: “A 48-team proposal, especially one where the group stage trims the field to 32 teams, is clearer and fairer.”
Phillip Chiyangwa, the Zimbabwe Football Association president, said: “It is good because it is about accommodating more teams from Africa. That is positive.”
The Scottish Football Association also warmly welcomed the decision, with CE Stewart Regan saying the association would allow the domestic game to develop with the extra finances that qualifying for the quadrennial football showpiece would bring.