FIFA oppose World Cup expansion

ZURICH: A majority of the members on FIFA's technical and football committees oppose a proposal to increase the number of teams taking part in the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany, FIFA said in a statement on Friday. 

The committees held a joint meeting at the headquarters of world soccer's governing body for the first time as FIFA's executive committee prepares to decide on Saturday whether the finals should be expanded to include 36 teams. 

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked Germany to give its opinion about a South American plan to add four teams to the current format in 2006. 

Thirty two teams means the tournament can be completed within a calendar month and has a logical progression. 

Having 36 teams would appease those confederations who feel under-represented but would add hugely to the cost and logistical problems of staging world football’s showpiece event. 

Blatter has not stated whether he supports the expansion plan but discussions on Friday led by the chairmen of the two FIFA committees – Spaniard Angel Maria Villar Llona (football) and Frenchman Michel Platini (technical) – showed a majority of their members believe the finals should stick with 32 teams. 

The group said having 36 teams in nine groups of four is not feasible and noted, instead, that the next viable number of teams would be 40, drawn in eight groups of five. 

They also said the current format, with the first and second teams in each group qualifying for the knock-out rounds, is “simple and fair” from a sporting perspective. 

They cited the financial and logistical problems of increasing the number of teams and said the costs would not bring a corresponding increase in revenue. 

The 36-team idea was put forward in March by the South American confederation CONMEBOL after South America, home of 2002 Cup winners Brazil, lost half a qualifying place to Oceania. 

The winners of the Oceania group now qualify automatically for the finals rather than facing a playoff with a team from the much stronger South American confederation. 

The CONMEBOL idea should face little opposition from European soccer's governing body UEFA, which would gain two more places at the finals. The others would go to CONMEBOL, which has four qualifying slots at present, and the winners of a playoff. 

But UEFA president Lennart Johansson said his executive was not united on the issue and he could not predict the outcome. 

“It's a very clever proposal from the South Americans,” he said. 

“No losers, only winners and, if we had said 'No' right away, we would be criticised from within our own membership for turning down the opportunity to bring two more European teams to the World Cup finals.” 

Last December, FIFA decided that in addition to CONMEBOL losing its playoff place, holders Brazil would no longer qualify automatically for the 2006 Finals.  

If the plans go ahead, it is likely there will be nine first round groups of four teams from which the winners and the seven best runners-up would proceed to the second round. 

But the FIFA committees pointed out on Friday that: “The seven best second-placed teams could not be determined simultaneously, which would result in an extended period of inactivity for some teams and could potentially also lead to arranged results.” 

An expansion could also mean days on which there were up to six matches taking place, a number that could cause major problems with television and fixture scheduling. 

The proposal is opposed by powerful European clubs whose top players are the big draws in the tournament. 

At a meeting of the G14 organisation, a grouping of 18 of Europe's biggest clubs, in Brussels on Tuesday, Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon said: “We can't just keep adding more fixtures to the calendar all the time. 

“We want to find ways of reducing the workload on players and this would seem to be heading in the opposite direction.” – Reuters 

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