Fifa wants more shoot-outs at World Cup

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Rumsby SPORTS NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is re­signed to a 48-team World Cup be­com­ing a re­al­ity this week, amid on­go­ing reser­va­tions about Fifa’s plans – which in­clude penalty shoot-outs at the end of drawn group games.

Fifa’s coun­cil is sched­uled to meet the morn­ing af­ter the gov­ern­ing body’s new an­nual awards cer­e­mony, The Best Fifa Foot­ball Awards, to rub­ber­stamp the first in­crease in the size of the game’s flag­ship tour­na­ment since 1998.

Ex­pan­sion from 32 to 48 teams from 2026 is thought to be a fore­gone con­clu­sion, with the ma­jor­ity of na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions and coun­cil mem­bers said to be in favour of a controversial for­mat that will trans­form the com­pe­ti­tion’s first round from eight groups of four coun­tries to 16 groups of three.

This would see each na­tion guar­an­teed two rather than three matches, with the top two in each group ad­vanc­ing to a last-32 stage in a tour­na­ment that will still last 32 days and still see no team play more than seven games.

Sup­port for the con­cept is far from unan­i­mous, with the fed­er­a­tion of world cham­pi­ons Ger­many hav­ing gone pub­lic with its op­po­si­tion on Thurs­day, cit­ing “con­sid­er­able weak­nesses” in the pre­ferred blue­print of Fifa pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino, who was elected last year on a plat­form that in­cluded ex­pand­ing the World Cup.

The “weak­nesses” cited by Ger­many in­clude a risk of a surge in the num­ber of dead-rub­ber fi­nal group matches. There is also the more se­ri­ous threat of the re­sults be­ing con­trived to suit both teams if they have recorded a win and a draw in their open­ing fix­tures.

Fifa’s so­lu­tion is a rad­i­cal pro­posal for drawn group fix­tures to be fol­lowed by a penalty shoot-out in or­der to en­sure a pos­i­tive result in ev­ery match.

De­spite that, the FA is re­signed to the switch and has not man­dated vicechair­man David Gill, Bri­tain’s Fifa vi­cepres­i­dent, to op­pose it. In­deed, Gill will not even at­tend Tues­day’s sum­mit af­ter Fifa re­ar­ranged its win­ter coun­cil meet­ings from De­cem­ber to Jan­uary, cre­at­ing a clash with a trip the for­mer Manch­ester United chief ex­ec­u­tive had ar­ranged to Aus­tralia.

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