Fifa President Gianni Infantino attends a media briefing after the Fifa Executive Football Summit in Singapore on December 8, 2016.

FIFA chief Gianni Infantino yesterday said Asian countries backed his plan to expand the World Cup to 48 teams — and added that up to three countries should be allowed to co-host the tournament.

Infantino, speaking after a 3-day FIFA summit in Singapore, said Asian football associations “unanimously” supported a larger World Cup, with a “big majority” favoring 48 teams.

Infantino’s proposal for a 48-team World Cup in 2026, featuring 16 groups of three, will be submitted to the FIFA Council next month. A 40-team World Cup is also on the table.

“They are very supportive on expanding it. Everyone, unanimously,” Infantino told reporters. “All of them were in favor of an increase and a big, big, big majority were in favor of the 48 teams with the 16 groups of three.”

The FIFA Council will vote in Zurich on January 9-10 whether to maintain the current World Cup format of 32 teams, or extend it to 40 or 48.

Under the 16-group format, every qualified team would play at least two games and the top two in each group would then go through to the last 32.

“I like 40 (and) I like 48 with the playoffs because it brings excitement before the group stage,” Infantino said. “But the 16 groups of three means that every game is important. There is no dead rubber. Every game is meaningful, is important.”

Asia currently has four World Cup berths, with a fifth available via a playoff. The Asian confederation is the world’s second biggest with 46 full members.

Infantino also said he supported allowing up to three countries to co-host the World Cup, instead of expecting one bidder to provide a dozen stadiums. Japan and South Korea co-hosted the tournament in 2002 but a World Cup spread across three countries would be unprecedented.

“If a country does need to have 12 stadiums of more than 50,000 spectators but only (has) four, then why shouldn’t we allow three countries to join forces, each country four stadiums and have 12 stadiums?” he said.

“That would then fit more in football development strategy… and more countries could participate in the dream of hosting at least one part of the World Cup, so I’m very open to it.”

Infantino added that club football would not be affected by an expanded World Cup, and stressed that countries around the globe would reap the benefits of being able to participate.

“There’s no downside for the clubs because the calendar is not impacted,” he said.

“But there’s an upside for football because it allows eight or 16 more teams and more countries and more regions in the world to participate in the competition, which is the World Cup.”

Critics, including Germany coach Joachim Loew, have said that adding another 16 teams would dilute the quality of the event but Infantino disagreed.

“I think that the value and the quality of football has grown incredibly all over the world. Let’s not forget in the last World Cup, for example, two of the historic big countries like England and Italy were eliminated by Costa Rica, which is not really known as a powerhouse of world football. This shows that the quality is certainly wider than many people say or think,” he said.

Shanghai Daily

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