European clubs oppose expansion plan
Number of games already "unacceptable"
First Germany coach Joachim Low. Then Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. Now the organization that speaks for Europe’s biggest football clubs has rejected FIFA’s plan to expand the World Cup in 2026.
The European Club Association said Thursday that the number of games played throughout the year was already at an “unacceptable” level, and urged the governing body to reconsider its idea of increasing the number of teams that qualify for soccer’s biggest tournament from 32 to 48.
Last week FIFA president Gianni Infantino altered his October expansion proposal by saying he wants 16 groups of three teams to compete, with the top two progressing to the last-32 knockout stage.
His initial plan featured a knockout round before group games began, with the 16 defeated nations going home after playing just one match.
The proposals will be put to a vote at a FIFA council meeting in Zurich in January, according to the AFP news agency.
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‘Focus on the sport’
The ECA represents more than 200 clubs, including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Its chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge – who played at three World Cups – pointedly opposed any expansion proposals.
“We have to focus on the sport again. Politics and commerce should not be the exclusive priority in football,” the former West Germany and Bayern striker said in a statement.
“In the interest of the fans and the players, we urge FIFA not to increase the number of World Cup participants.”
Last week, Guardiola told reporters football’s busy calendar was “going to kill the players” when asked about World Cup expansion.
In October, meanwhile, 2014 World Cup winner Low was quoted by ESPN as saying he was not in favor of tournament expansion as “if you keep on raising numbers, there is a watering-down of quality.”
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Infantino made World Cup expansion part of his successful campaign to be elected to FIFA’s top job in February, replacing the disgraced Sepp Blatter.
In his previous role as UEFA general secretary, the Italian oversaw the expansion of the European Championships from 16 teams to 24.
The World Cup grew from 16 teams to 24 in 1982, and then to its present 32 in 1998.
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Blatter held power for 18 years by appealing to developing football regions, taking the World Cup to Asia and Africa for the first time and being in charge when Qatar won the vote to be the Middle East’s first host in 2022.