FIFA president Gianni Infantino is not giving up on his plan to have 48 teams involved in football’s World Cup, going as far as preparing a proposal for a January meeting.
On Thursday, Infantino met several national federations from Asia, Europe and Oceania – and received a positive response.
“They are very supportive of expanding; everyone, unanimously – all those who were here,” Infantino said after the meeting.
“The big, big, big majority is in favour of the 48 teams with the 16 groups of three.”
Under Infantino’s proposal, the 16 groups of three teams and the top two in each pool progress to a knockout competition.
Under that format, up to 80 games could be scheduled at a World Cup, with each nation to play a minimum of two matches.
“That way we would have 16 more teams qualifying for a final stage of a World Cup, in which they would be playing for a spot in the group stage, in a match that amounts to an absolutely incredible final in terms of passion,” he said in October.
He will reportedly submit his idea to the FIFA Council in Zurich next month, along with other ways the biggest sporting event in the world could be re-tooled.
Infantino has previously denied suggestions more teams at the World Cup would take away from its popularity and quality.
“Whether it will be 40 or 48, it was a positive discussion,” he said.
“I don’t agree it will dilute the quality. I would like to remind you that in the last World Cup, England and Italy were eliminated by Costa Rica.
“The level of football is increasing all over the world. In a 48-team format, the quality would be higher because the 32 teams would have a playoff.
“The quality would improve and not decrease in any way.”
The earliest any changes decided on in January’s FIFA Council meeting would be introduced is the 2026 World Cup.
The tournament has not been tinkered with since the 1998 edition, when the number of nations involved rose from 24 to 32.
Infantino declared during his successful bid to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president that he wanted to expand the World Cup – and potentially look at it being staged in multiple countries.
He said he was inspired by the success of the 2016 European Championships in France, where 24 teams competed – up from 16 in previous tournaments.
Infantino’s plan is ‘ludicrous’: England great
Ex-England captain Terry Butcher, who played in three World Cups for his country, said the success of the World Cup meant it did not warrant changing – and that Infantino’s idea was ridiculous.
“It [this idea] is pants,” Butcher told Sky Sports.
“I have never heard anything so ludicrous in my life. I know it is to try to get more teams involved, as it was in the European Championship, but I find this whole thing bizarre.
“You are tinkering with something you needn’t tinker with.
“It is the World Cup for goodness sake, possibly the greatest sporting event ever.”
Germany coach Joachim Low shared Butcher’s view in October when he said: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to dilute the sporting value.
“We must be clear that, in the long-term, the quality suffers. We must not overdo it.”