FIFA president Gianni Infantino (L) and Argentinian retired professional footballer Diego Armando Maradona (R) poses with football player legends for a group picture after a FIFA Football Legends football game ahead of The Best FIFA Football Awards 2016 on January 9, 2017 at the FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich. / AFP PHOTO / Michael Buholzer / ALTERNATIVE CROP
Argentine football legend Diego Maradona on Monday backed controversial plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams, a day before world football’s powerful governing council faces a key decision on the issue.
“It sounds like a fantastic idea to me,” the 56-year-old told reporters at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters.
“This will give more possibilities to countries that have never reached that level of competition,” he added.
The hobbled Maradona spoke dripping with sweat after rumbling his way through a mini-tournament involving former football greats and current executives.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has organised a series of so-called “Legends Tournaments” since taking charge of the body last year, playing alongside former football stars in front of assembled media.
Infantino has made expanding the World Cup the centrepiece of his young administration, but his plans have faced criticism, including from those who warn that it will dilute the quality of play at football’s showcase event.
“The quality will not fall,” Maradona said when asked about those concerns.
Infantino has been courting support from the game’s most powerful figures ahead of the FIFA council meet.
The influential panel will review five proposals on Tuesday: leaving the World Cup unchanged at 32 teams, two proposals for a 40-team competition and two 48-team scenarios.
Infantino is said to be backing a 48-team option with 16 groups of three, which would come into effect for the 2026 competition.
Any decision made by the council will have to be approved by FIFA’s full 211 members at the body’s next congress.