Thursday 17 January 2019

Expanded World Cup can aid teams like us say Scots

Gianni Infantino, FIFA President
Gianni Infantino, FIFA President

There's nothing but a stony silence from the FAI on the topic of the expansion of the World Cup finals from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 tournament.

But Scotland's football bosses, still smarting from their failure to qualify even for the play-offs for a 32-team European Championships in 2016, let alone the finals tournament itself, have come out and given their backing by the decision of the blazers in FIFA to rubber-stamp the expansion of the World Cup.

Northern Ireland are also fans of the move.

The 2018 and 2022 finals will go ahead with just 32 teams taking part but by the time World Cup 2026 rolls around (in a host nation yet to be decided but possibly the USA), we will have 48 countries competing.

That means more matches (80 instead of 64) and of course more money, the only reason why bodies like FIFA make a decision like this.

Those who run football in Asia, Africa and Oceania will see this expansion as their chance to grab something back for the game in their parts of the world and it is a historical anachronism that Europe dominates the World Cup finals.

But the so-called smaller nations will see this enlarged World Cup as a chance for them to get a footing back on the big stage again.

"We are pleased with the news that the FIFA World Cup will expand to 48 teams from 2026," said Stewart Regan, head man at the Scottish FA.

"We believe this is a positive step, particularly for the smaller nations, and will allow more fans across the globe to revel in their country's participation at a FIFA World Cup finals.

"This will also allow these nations to invest further in their footballing infrastructure and youth development, which in turn can yield significant social benefits.

"The exploits of Wales, Iceland, and Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 showed what an impact the smaller teams can have and how beneficial to a tournament their participation can be," he added.

The failure by the head man of Scottish football to mention the Republic of Ireland in that sentence may be an oversight or still sour grapes from the fact that, despite taking four points off Ireland in Euro 2016 qualification, the boys in green made it to France while the Scots stayed at home. Again.

Ireland supporters are unaware of the thoughts of the FAI as their communications department were unable to supply a statement yesterday, though the IFA in Belfast did comment.

"I'm in favour of any decision that gives Northern Ireland a better chance of qualifying for a World Cup," said IFA president David Martin.

"If the new format of the tournament gives us a greater opportunity to make the finals then it has my support. What it would do is give more countries hope and raise expectation levels."

But European nations who expect an easier path to the 2026 World Cup could be disappointed as Asia and Africa will be the big winners.

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