SCRAMBLE FOR CUP SLOTS BEGINS: Asia boss first to call for more World Cup places

This file photo taken on May 12, 2006 shows the FIFA World Cup trophy presented to the public in Berlin. FIFA's ruling council on January 10, 2017 unanimously approved an expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams in 2026, with a format of 16 groups of three nations. / AFP PHOTO /

Asia’s football chief said the region “deserves more slots” at the World Cup, as Fifa’s decision to expand the tournament to 48 teams from 2026 was cheered in countries from China to New Zealand.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said Asia’s size and economic might merited more than its current allocation of four guaranteed spots, which is expected to rise to eight.

Chinese state media said the move could help realise the country’s “dream” of returning to the World Cup, while New Zealand, which looks set to be a key beneficiary, called the move “fantastic news”.

Many critics have rounded on the decision, complaining it will dilute the quality of the World Cup and saying it was driven by hunger for profits and political gain.

But Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said it would have a “positive impact on Asian football”.

“We believe that Asia, as the biggest continent, deserves more slots compared with the current quota, looking at the economic power it has, and the popularity for the game in Asia, in addition to the huge development for football at all levels,” he said in a statement.

Sheikh Salman is a vice-president of the Fifa Council, which on Tuesday approved the move to increase the number of World Cup competitors from 32 to 48 teams, the biggest rise in its history.

The expansion was a key election promise of Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who beat Sheikh Salman to the post in polls early last year.

A confidential Fifa report seen by AFP forecasts a 48-team tournament would bring a cash boost of $640 million (Sh64 billion) above projected revenues for next year’s edition in Russia. Asian countries have largely failed to make an impact at the World Cup, which is dominated by European and South American teams, although co-hosts South Korea reached the semi-finals in 2002.

In China, who are 82nd in the Fifa rankings but have set their sights on becoming a global football power, the official Xinhua news agency said Fifa’s move represented a big opportunity.

“Even if the levels of skill and strategy in the Chinese men’s football do not grow in leaps and bounds by 2026, the initial objectives of (China’s) football reform will have been realised,” a Xinhua commentary said.

“By then, with the added bonus of World Cup expansion, it is highly possible that China’s return to the World Cup will no longer be just a dream.”

Next Story
LATEST STORIES
Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick fit for Manchester United’s EFL Cup final, says Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has confirmed Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick will be available for Manchester United when they take on Southampton in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

Brazilian soccer legend Pele's son to serve drug-related prison sentence

The son of soccer great Pele has pledged to turn himself over to police after a court ruled he must serve almost 13 years of a 33-year drug-trafficking sentence, his lawyer told Reuters on Friday.

Raiola ready to cut off Balotelli's tongue after latest red card

Balotelli received his third red card of the season during Nice's 1-0 victory at Lorient last Saturday for showing dissent to referee Tony Chapron.

Leicester City eyeing former Premier League coach to replace Ranieri

Premier League champions Leicester City are eyeing another coach to replace Claudio Raneiri.

Mourinho posts emotional tribute to sacked Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho who was also dismissed a year after winning the title while at Chelsea, has words of encouragement for the sacked Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri.

More Stories
Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick fit for Manchester United’s EFL Cup final, says Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has confirmed Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick will be available for Manchester United when they take on Southampton in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

Mourinho posts emotional tribute to sacked Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho who was also dismissed a year after winning the title while at Chelsea, has words of encouragement for the sacked Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri.

Find out the upcoming fixtures in the Premier League- this weekend

fixtures in the Premier League- this weekend

WHAT GOOD FACILITIES CAN DO: SportPesa All Stars have taste of Hull City’s infrastructure which they can only dream of having when back home for KPL d

If cold weather was an invention, the person behind it must have hailed from Yorkshire, and specifically Kingston Upon Hull, in the United Kingdom.

KENYA GIVEN ASSURANCE: Caf says Chan will not be moved

KENYA GIVEN ASSURANCE: Caf says Chan will not be moved

Mata happy to play for Mourinho at United

Manchester United ace Juan Mata insists he did NOT leave Chelsea because he had fallen out with Jose Mourinho.

Vietnamese players banned over 'mannequin' protest

A Vietnamese goalkeeper has been banned for two years for leading an extraordinary mannequin-style protest when his team stood still and let in three late goals to complain about a disputed penalty.

Mourinho happy with Rooney's decision to stay

Jose Mourinho confirmed Wayne Rooney will be in Manchester United's League Cup Final squad against Southampton after the club's record goal scorer declared he will remain at Old Trafford for the rest of the season.

Manchester United 'most followed club in China'

Manchester United is the most popular club online in China but the Bundesliga's web presence far outstrips the English Premier League, a new study has shown.