Wales will wel­come ex­panded World Cup

South Wales Echo - - SPORT -

WALES have thrown their weight be­hind FIFA’s new ex­panded 48-team World Cup.

Welsh FA of­fi­cials be­lieve the big­ger tour­na­ment gives their fans a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity of fol­low­ing the Dragons in the great­est foot­ball com­pe­ti­tion on earth.

They feel Welsh sup­port­ers and play­ers de­serve that stage af­ter the way the ‘Red Wall’ and Chris Cole­man’s heroes cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of a con­ti­nent dur­ing Euro 2016.

FA of Wales bosses have yet to make an of­fi­cial com­ment on the FIFA Coun­cil vote, which was taken in Zurich yes­ter­day.

How­ever, they are un­der­stood to be de­lighted with the de­ci­sion and know it rep­re­sents the best op­por­tu­nity for a grow­ing foot­ball na­tion like Wales to punch their weight against giants such as Brazil and Ar­gentina.

Wales are con­fi­dent they will have an­other com­pet­i­tive team for the 2026 World Cup – the first time the new 48-team for­mat kicks in.

An­other golden crop of young­sters are com­ing through the sys­tem, headed by Liver­pool’s highly-rated star­let Ben Wood­burn.

An en­larged Euro 2016 gave eight ex­tra teams the added in­cen­tive of reach­ing the fi­nals, which en­er­gised Wales through­out their qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign – although Cole­man’s men would have qual­i­fied any­way.

Wales put to bed 48 years of hurt with their as­ton­ish­ing run to the semi­fi­nals, while na­tions like Ice­land and North­ern Ire­land brought a new fer­vour to the tour­na­ment.

A decade on, it is be­lieved an ex­panded World Cup will do the same.

The new for­mat has won sup­port from Scot­tish FA chief Ste­wart Re­gan and Manch­ester United boss Jose Mour­inho, who agreed the small, pas­sion­ate na­tions are the big win­ners from FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino’s am­bi­tious plan.

Mour­inho said: “The ex­pan­sion means that the World Cup will be even more of an in­cred­i­ble so­cial event. More coun­tries, more in­vest­ment in dif­fer­ent coun­tries in in­fra­struc­ture, in youth foot­ball. More na­tions tak­ing part means more pas­sion, more hap­pi­ness, more en­thu­si­asm.”

While Wales’ World Cup 2018 fate hangs in the bal­ance, 2026 will rep­re­sent a fan­tas­tic chance to ap­pear in the fi­nals.

The new tour­na­ment will com­prise 16 groups of three fol­lowed by a 32-team knock­out, with the same num­ber of games as the cur­rent for­mat.

Europe will have 13 spots in the 2018 tour­na­ment in Rus­sia – the same as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – but that num­ber is set to in­crease for 2026, giv­ing na­tions like Wales a huge op­por­tu­nity to strut their stuff with the world watch­ing.

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