11 Jun 2018 - 19:52
48-team World Cup in Qatar unlikely; feasibility study request withdrawn
By Rob Harris and Graham Dunbar / AP
MOSCOW: The prospect of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar growing to 48 teams faded Sunday after a discussion of the issue was pulled from the agenda for FIFA's annual congress.
Plans for a feasibility study were put on hold after Qatar World Cup head Hassan Al-Thawadi addressed the ruling council of world football's governing body and FIFA President Gianni Infantino said agreement from the Gulf nation is a "precondition."
FIFA says a request to start a feasibility study into adding 16 teams to the Qatar-hosted tournament has been withdrawn by South American body CONMEBOL.
Having previously said he was keen on an adding 16 teams, Infantino is now casting doubt on the possibility of disrupting preparations for the Qatar tournament.
The FIFA Congress, which features up to 211 football federations, will now have no say in the number of teams at the tournament in Qatar. Infantino said there would be no change in the number of finalists once qualifying begins, which is likely in early 2019.
"The final decision is that the council will decide," Infantino said after Sunday's council meeting in Moscow. "But obviously it cannot decide this without the agreement with the hosts of Qatar. That's a precondition obviously."
FIFA is already committed to a 48-team World Cup in 2026 and the South American confederation of 10 nations formally asked Infantino in April to fast-track the expansion. Infantino has toned down his initial enthusiasm over the concept, with little sign of support away from CONMEBOL.
"It's really premature to discuss about any of the details about it," Infantino said. "The FIFA administration will discuss with the hosts and then we will see. For the moment what there is, is a World Cup with 32 teams being played."
Regardless of the number of teams playing in Qatar, the way all 211 men's national sides are seeded in qualifying is being reconfigured.
A new formula that rewards teams for playing more games was approved Sunday, and it takes effect in July ranking after the World Cup in Russia.
The current system in place since 1993 lets teams boost their status by avoiding friendly games. Now, teams will gain or lose points from their existing points total with each result. Even more weight will be given to competitive games over friendlies.
"The new formula (is) more intuitive and accurate, eliminating the potential for ranking manipulation," FIFA said.
Germany is the top-ranked team when the World Cup kicks off Thursday in Moscow.
Before the tournament starts, FIFA will be deciding the host of the 2026 World Cup. The council rubber-stamped the participation of Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid in the ballot on Wednesday.