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FIFA boss plays down talk of expanded 48-team World Cup in Qatar

Gianni Infantino suggested expanding the number of World Cup teams last month [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 November, 2018

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FIFA president Gerard Infantino has said indicated that an expanded World Cup in Qatar with 48 teams will not happen, despite earlier suggestions that it would.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Wednesday all but wrote off the chances of an expanded 48-team competition at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Infantino had told the Asian Football Confederation's annual congress last month in Kuala Lumpur that increasing the number of teams from the 32 in the Russia World Cup this year was "feasible".

However, he appeared to backtrack on the suggestion during an interview with AFP and other media in Zurich. 

"I haven't changed my mind," said Infantino. 

"I was positive about it from the beginning because I think if we can increase the number of teams it is good for football. That is why we are going to do it for the 2026 World Cup.

"Can we do it for 2022? It is a difficult challenge."

Accommodating another 16 teams would vastly complicate Qatar's task in preparing for the World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny desert state in 2010.

"We are in discussion with Qatar," said Infantino, who added that the tournament would need to spread to neighbouring countries.

"It will be a very, very difficult challenge to do it only in Qatar. 

"So personally, as president of FIFA, I would be very happy if some matches could be shared with some countries in the region."

Regional cooperation to host the tournament is complicated by Qatar's stand-off with neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the resource-rich country, accusing it of endorsing terror activities.

Qatar has strongly denied the accusations and has weathered over a year of sanctions from the Saudi-led bloc.

Following the recent Russia World Cup, Qatar accused pirates in Saudi Arabia of industrial-scale theft of its sports broadcasts, and last month Doha also launched an action at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, accusing the kingdom of violating intellectual property rights, over piracy of the beIN sports channel.

"In the light of current circumstances in the region I would be even happier if it could happen," Infantino said.

"Football unites, builds bridges, that could be a concrete result.

"What are the chances? Certainly small but what is wrong in discussing it?" said Infantino.

A final decision will be made in March at the next FIFA Council in Miami before the draws for qualifying are made.

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