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World Cup could expand to 48 teams, Fifa's Gianni Infantino suggests

 Fifa Council to rule on possible expansion in new year
 Plan would see 16 teams go home after one game


Not content with expanding the World Cup to 40 teams, the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, has suggested going even further and opening up the competition to 48 countries from 2026.

The proposal to expand the competition to 40 teams was part of Infantino's manifesto when he was elected to succeed the disgraced Sepp Blatter this year.

However, the former Uefa general secretary has now gone further still and suggested that the tournament could feature 48 teams, 16 of which would go home after one match.

The idea would mean almost a quarter of Fifa's 211 members qualifying for its flagship tournament and further increase the demands on the host nation. But the idea is likely to be popular among confederations outside Europe, who have long felt disadvantaged when it comes to World Cup places.

Infantino, speaking during an event at Bogota's Sergio Aboleda university, said a final decision on the plan would be taken by the newly expanded Fifa Council in January, according to local Colombian media. 'These are ideas to find the best solution. We will debate them this month and we will decide everything by 2017,' said Infantino. 'They are ideas which we put forward to see which one is the best.'

The Swiss-Italian, a late entrant to the Fifa presidential race when the Uefa president, Michel Platini, was forced to withdraw over the episode by which he was eventually banned from football for four years, said he would advocate a 48-team tournament.

Infantino suggested a preliminary knockout round involving 32 teams played in the host country, with 16 winners reaching the group stage. Another 16 seeded teams would get a bye into the group stage. A Fifa spokeswoman confirmed on Monday night that the quotes were accurate.

The potential expansion of the World Cup from the current 32 teams is likely to be one of the items for discussion when the Fifa Council, rebranded from the disgraced executive committee that became synonymous with the corruption scandal that brought world football to its knees, meets next week.

Joachim Low, the Germany coach, said last weekend that he opposed plans to expand the tournament. 'I don't think its a good idea to dilute the sporting value,' the 2014-World Cup-winning coach told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview on Sunday. Low added that he had 'an absolute understanding for the smaller nations who, thanks to this, could take their place on the big stage'.

However, Low, who was also against enlarging the European championship from 16 to 24 teams, said that expanded tournaments placed a greater 'sporting and mental' burden on the players. 'We must be clear that, in the long term, the quality suffers. We must not overdo it.'

The World Cup was expanded from 24 teams to 32 in 1994 but most proposals for further expansion involve convoluted mathematical contortions or leave open the possibility of making the group stages unbalanced. Infantino's solution would avoid that but would leave 16 teams flying to the host country to play one match before going home again.

The Guardian, 3 October 2016

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