Critics round on ‘political’ World Cup expansion

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PHOTO:AFP

Critics of FIFA’s decision Tuesday to expand the World Cup to 48 teams were quick to blast it as a politically and money-driven ploy that will be detrimental to football’s showpiece tournament.

But there was support — particularly in Asia and Africa — for FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s expansion plan, unanimously approved by FIFA’s ruling council and to be implemented at the 2026 World Cup.

In Germany, the reigning World Cup winners, reaction was mixed.

“I am not happy with the decision and would have wished that all the important questions about the organisation and the format had been completely resolved,” said Reinhard Grindel, president of the German Football Association.

“But since the decision was taken unanimously by the FIFA council, it is important to respect it and look forward.

“My main worry is that the attractiveness of the matches will suffer.”

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said he could “understand everyone who feels the increase of the field is a dilution (in the quality of the tournament)”.

“Also for me, the increase to 48 teams for the biggest and the most important tournament in the world feels like it’s too much,” he said.

Berti Vogts, who won the 1974 World Cup with Germany and went on to coach his country, did not hold back.

“I’m very, very appalled, I don’t want to believe it,” he said.

“It’s terrible. If you want to ruin something, this is the path you should take. I just don’t understand it.”

Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish league, made no attempt to hide his disgust.

“FIFA is doing politics. Gianni Infantino is doing politics,” he thundered.

“To be elected he promised more countries at the World Cup. He wants to honour his electoral promises. But the promises made to professional football, he’s not sticking to.

“It is without our agreement and it makes us very angry.”

Football’s powerful European Club Association also reiterated its opposition, describing the current 32-team model as “the perfect formula”.

“We understand that this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable,” the body, which represents many of European football’s biggest clubs, said in a statement.

New FIFA Now, a campaign group that says the scandal-plagued governing body needs to reform, labelled the expansion “a money grab and power grab”.

“It will dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans,” it said in a statement.

A confidential FIFA report seen by AFP projects a 48-team tournament would bring a cash boost of $640 million (605 million euros) above projected revenues for next year’s finals in Russia.

– Praise in Asia, Africa –
Infantino said Tuesday’s move would allow more countries to “dream” of qualifying for the World Cup — Africa and Asia could be the big winners with a rise in their number of places.

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic told Kyodo: “A 48-team proposal, especially one where the group stage trims the field to 32 teams, is clearer and fairer.”

Phillip Chiyangwa, the Zimbabwe Football Association president, told AFP: “It is good because it is about accommodating more teams from Africa. That is positive.”

The Scottish Football Association also warmly welcomed the decision, chief executive Stewart Regan saying it would allow the domestic game to develop with the extra finances that qualifying for the quadrennial football showpiece would bring.

“We believe this is a positive step, particularly for the smaller nations, and will allow more fans across the globe to revel in their country’s participation at a FIFA World Cup Finals,” Regan said.

“This will also allow these nations to invest further in their footballing infrastructure and youth development, which in turn can yield significant social benefits.”

Regan added that the achievements of the smaller nations at an expanded Euro 2016 — Iceland eliminated England and Wales got to the semi-finals — had shown how minnows internationally could enhance a major finals.

“A greater eclectic mix of footballing cultures at the FIFA World Cup will create a bigger and better atmosphere than ever before.”

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