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World Cup expansion looks likely ahead of FIFA Council vote

The ESPN FC crew critique Gianni Infantino's proposal for a World Cup with 16 groups of three teams.

On Tuesday, the 37-member FIFA Council, world football's highest decision-making body, will vote in Zurich on proposals to change the World Cup from its current 32-team format.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino promised to expand the tournament during his election campaign last year, and speculation is increasing that a 48-team tournament is the target. That proposal is one of five that are on the table for the 2026 tournament, which is the earliest any change can come into effect.

Discussions on the future of the World Cup have been taking place among senior officials from the six confederations that make up FIFA. ESPN FC spoke with some of them about which way the vote might go, including three from the FIFA Council itself.

Dr. Michel D'Hooghe (FIFA Council Member, UEFA)

"I have studied the proposals, and there are many advantages and disadvantages to increasing the number of teams in the World Cup. As I am also head of FIFA's medical committee, my main concern is for the welfare of the players and to ensure that, physically, they are not put under more strain from playing an increased number of matches. I will be meeting with my European counterparts on the FIFA Council in Zurich, but we are already of the opinion that, one way or another, the World Cup needs to be expanded. We have not reached a final decision yet on which is our preferred option because how many extra slots Europe receives will determine our decision."

Maria Sol Munoz (FIFA Council Member, CONMEBOL)

"A 40-team World Cup is the best option because, if you have 48 teams, this could affect the quality of the competition. Until now, the 32-team format has worked very well, but all of us at CONMEBOL agree that the time has now come to expand the World Cup and give more countries a chance to participate. From the South American perspective, our other concern is how a 48-team tournament could impact our qualifying tournament. We will have more places in an expanded World Cup but already have five teams out of 10 that regularly qualify (four automatically and one through a playoff). If, for example, we are given an extra two slots, then that will have a negative impact on the competitiveness of our qualifying tournament, which is an important source of revenue for our members."

Gianni Infantino at FIFA Congress
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has pushed World Cup expansion since taking office last year.

Lee Harmon (FIFA Council Member, Oceania)

"I am in favour of expansion but will have a final meeting in Zurich with my Oceania colleagues on the FIFA Council to decide if it should be 40 or 48 teams. FIFA have sent us a detailed dossier on the different options, and either of these formats looks good to me. We do not even have a guaranteed spot in the [2018] World Cup at the moment, as the winner from Oceania has to play the fifth-placed team from South America to qualify for the tournament. This has worked against our sides in the past. For us, even one guaranteed place in an expanded World Cup would be fantastic for football in Oceania."

Praful Patel (Asian Football Confederation senior vice president)

"Our AFC representatives will be voting for the 48-team option. It would open up the World Cup to more countries and also generate more finances for FIFA. I also believe that an expanded tournament would help nations where football is still developing and allow them to increase the popularity of the game. This is something very important to Asia in particular. We estimate that we will be given at least another two slots, perhaps more, and this can only help the game in countries like India and China. The World Cup is a hugely successful tournament, but it is important to make it more open and accessible."

Decio de Maria (CONCACAF Council member and Mexico Football Federation president)

"We have already revealed that we will be bidding for the 2026 World Cup and, along with the rest of CONCACAF, believe that a 48-team tournament is the best option. It would be an historic World Cup, the largest in history, and we would be honoured to host it, either independently or jointly with other nations. FIFA has gone through a lot of upheavals recently, and this is an excellent opportunity to help the organisation to rebuild its finances and reputation. A bigger World Cup would also help the development of the game, allowing FIFA to distribute even more funds to its members."

Leodegar Tenga (Confederation of African Football executive committee member)

"Our representatives on the FIFA Council will vote for a 48-team tournament. CAF has had meetings about this, and all of us believe that it would be the best way forward for FIFA and African football. We have made an enormous contribution to world football and believe that our countries should have greater opportunities to take part in the World Cup. We would like to see at least another two or three places given to African nations and have informed Infantino about this. An expanded World Cup would also be a fantastic opportunity to improve the financial state of the African game, and it is something that fans across the continent want."

Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport

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