The South African Football Association (Safa) has welcomed the decision by Fifa to expand the World Cup to 48 teams.
The decision, unanimously agreed to by the Fifa congress yesterday, has drawn mixed reaction from the global football public. Fifa said the make-up of the extra 16 slots would be discussed further at future council meetings.
Under the new format, effective from the 2026 World Cup finals, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which is traditionally under-represented, may be given additional slots to the present five.
The World Cup is traditionally a domain of stronger footballing nations with the smaller teams and those on the fringes of qualification for the tournament continuously missing out on the shindig. But the new format will increase their chances of making it to the world’s biggest football showpiece.
The allocation of the new slots will be discussed after the plans have been ratified by Fifa’s congress. “The decision was taken following a thorough analysis, based on a report that included four different format options,” Fifa president Gianni Infantino said.
“The study took into account such factors as sporting balance, competition quality and impact on football development, infrastructure, projections on financial position and the consequences for event delivery.” The addition of 16 nations will see groups being reduced from four to three teams, with a quicker process to the knockout phases.
Each team will face every other team in the group once, with the top two sides progressing to an increased knockout round consisting of 32 teams.
The number of matches will also increase from 64 to 80 but the competition will still be played over 32 days. The new format also guarantees that each country will have at least two games as Infantino’s initial plan predicts a playoff round before the main group phase to eliminate 16 teams.
The current World Cup format, which has been in place since 1998, involves eight groups of four, with the top two teams proceeding through to the last 16 knockout round.
However, not everyone is chuffed with the developments, German Football Association boss Reinhard Grindel being among the dissenting voices.
Grindel said ahead of the vote that the expansion could dilute the quality of football and overburden players. The next Fifa council meeting is scheduled to be held in Bahrain on May 9, ahead of the 67th Fifa congress.
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