KUALA LUMPUR: FIFA president Gianni Infantino said expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams was “feasible” on Wednesday, as hosts Qatar pledged to come to a decision in the early part of next year.
Infantino said “Why not?” bring forward the expansion from 32 teams to 48, which is currently due at the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
“We have decided… to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48,” Infantino told the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur.
“It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible. It is possible. Why not?” he added.
Infantino said an expanded tournament would see Asia’s allocation rise from 4.5 places to 8.5, raising cheers from the delegates assembled at a luxury hotel in the Malaysian capital.
“You will have (a bigger) chance. It is possible. It is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends. We are discussing with many other friends in the region. We hope we have it happen. We always have to try,” he said.
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.
Qatar has also been involved in a stand-off with neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the resource-rich country, accusing it of endorsing terror activities.
Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the 2022 organizing body, told AFP that Qatar was studying the 48 teams proposal and would make a decision before qualifying gets underway.
“We are still looking at the feasibility studies and we will be in a better position to provide a feedback in the future,” he said.
“But it will be decided before the qualifications… sometime in the first quarter of next year.”
He added that preparations remained on track despite the blockade and that the budget of $200 billion for the entire infrastructure, including metro and expressway, has not been affected.
“We are very happy and excited with the progress. It is on track. By 2020-2021 all our (eight) stadiums will be ready,” al-Thawadi said.
“This is the first World Cup in the Middle East and is a perfect opportunity to bring people together and contribute to the process of healing,” he added.
Ahead of FIFA’s presidential election next year, Infantino said 180 out of the 211 federations had given him their support.
“You know there is an election coming. I have announced I will be a (presidential) candidate. I have received over 180 letters of support,” he said. “And when it comes to Asia, only a couple are missing.”
Ronaldo still part of Portugal team!
MILAN: Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted Saturday that superstar Cristiano Ronaldo remains a key part of his national team despite being left out of his Nations League squad after the European champions became the first team to advance to the semi-finals of the competition.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner spent much of last month vehemently denying allegations of rape and was dropped by Santos for the Nations League internationals amid accusations by former model Kathryn Mayorga that Ronaldo raped her in 2009, just before he joined Real Madrid from Manchester United. “There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, just read the post he wrote today,” said Santos, referring to the message the Juventus player sent to wish his teammates good luck via Twitter. Portugal booked their ticket to the semi-finals next June after holding Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Saturday.
They progressed top of Group A3 with one match to play, dashing Italy’s hopes in the process. “The qualification confirms the quality of our football,” said Santos. “I thought it would be a great match and instead especially in the first half, we had a lot of difficulties. “After the break, I explained to them what was happening, and the game became more balanced.” Portugal host relegated Poland in three days in Guimaraes, in a match that has no significance for either side. But Santos insisted: “The final match against Poland will be important because it will be in front of our public, who are always with us. “We have to play well and to win.”
Football: Spanish La Liga table
Spanish La Liga table after Sunday’s early match (played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):
Barcelona 10 6 3 1 28 12 21
Atletico Madrid 10 5 4 1 12 5 19
Espanyol 10 5 3 2 14 8 18
Alaves 9 5 2 2 12 8 17
Sevilla 9 5 1 3 20 12 16
Valladolid 10 4 4 2 9 7 16
Levante 10 5 1 4 16 15 16
Getafe 10 4 3 3 10 8 15
Real Madrid 10 4 2 4 14 14 14
Celta Vigo 10 3 4 3 17 13 13
Girona 10 3 4 3 12 14 13
Real Sociedad 10 3 3 4 12 13 12
Real Betis 10 3 3 4 5 9 12
Valencia 10 1 8 1 7 8 11
Eibar 10 3 2 5 10 17 11
Athletic Bilbao 10 1 7 2 11 15 10
Villarreal 9 2 3 4 7 8 9
Leganes 10 2 2 6 8 15 8
Rayo Vallecano 10 1 3 6 10 20 6
Huesca 9 1 2 6 7 20 5
Football: Injured Messi to miss 3 weeks!
BARCELONA: Lionel Messi is expected to be out for three weeks with a fractured right arm but his last contribution was to help send Barcelona back to the top of La Liga on Saturday.
Messi scored and then went off injured as Barca beat Sevilla 4-2 at Camp Nou, in a six-goal thriller that never looked like ending in anything other than a home win.
Any joy at jumping above in-form Sevilla, however, was tarnished by Messi’s injury, which will now rule him out of next weekend’s Clasico against Real Madrid.
A Barcelona club statement read: “Tests carried out on Leo Messi have confirmed that he has a fracture of the radial bone in his right arm. He will be out for approximately three weeks.”
It means Messi will also miss the Champions League match at home to Inter Milan on Wednesday, and probably the return trip to Italy on November 6, as well as league games against Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano in between.
“It is clear it is a blow,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We know what he gives us and we know what he does to the opposition.
“We have to prepare ourselves, it is clear we are going to notice the loss of Messi but we have players that can cover.”
Messi fell to the ground following a tussle with Sevilla’s Franco Vazquez and, as his right hand tried to cushion the landing, his elbow appeared to buckle.
Messi was helped off the pitch by medical staff and, despite having his right arm heavily strapped, he was finally substituted in the 26th minute.
“Emotionally, we know when he is there, he gives us more confidence because he is the best in the world,” Gerard Pique said. “But it does not have to affect us.”
Philippe Coutinho had opened the scoring and Luis Suarez’s penalty, which he also earned, made sure of victory before a three-goal flurry in the final 11 minutes.
Pablo Sarabia and Luis Muriel twice reduced the deficit to two for Sevilla, either side of a sweeping volley from Ivan Rakitic.
Even without Messi, Barca might be confident of seeing off Madrid, whose slump had continued on Saturday with a 2-1 loss at home to Levante. Barcelona, meanwhile, seems to have sparked a rival.
Since drawing at home to Athletic Bilbao last month to make it three games without a win, they have blown Tottenham away at Wembley, taken a point away to Valencia and now eased past Sevilla, who came into the weekend top of the table.
Barca fans had chanted, “don’t touch the badge” before kick-off after president Josep Maria Bartomeu had announced plans to change the club crest had been shelved.
They were soon celebrating a goal too as Coutinho bent a sumptuous right-footed shot into the far corner with only two minutes on the clock.
Messi doubled the advantage, racing clear on the counter-attack before jinking inside and curling into the bottom corner with his left foot. It was his last significant involvement.
“He did enough didn’t he?” Sevilla coach Pablo Machin said afterward.
Ousmane Dembele was Messi’s replacement but Suarez took on the mantle, too quick to his own heavy touch and brought down by Sevilla goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik. Suarez buried the penalty.
The game seemed up but Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to make a brilliant double save to deny Sarabia and then Wissam Ben Yedder with his thigh.
Sarabia gave Sevilla hope with 11 minutes left, his shot deflecting off Clement Lenglet and in, but Rakitic took the steam out of any comeback with a well-struck volley. Muriel added what proved only to be a consolation in injury time.