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.”
China has over 24,000 football-featured schools
BEIJING: As of November 2018, China has over 24,000 primary and secondary schools with football education as their main feature, covering 20 million students, according to a China Education Daily report.
Also, the country has launched pilot programs of school football education in more than 130 county-level regions, the report said.
The report said the building of ranks of football teachers has been strengthened, with over 8,800 teachers and 6,800 headmasters receiving relevant training.
In 2018, a total of 25,000 people took part in national high school football league games, and 37,000 participated in national college league games, it said.
Messi and Bale benched for Copa Clasico at Camp Nou
BARCELONA: Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale were both left on the bench for the Copa del Rey semi-final between Barcelona and Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Messi had felt pain in his thigh during Barca’s draw against Valencia on Sunday and, despite training on Tuesday evening, was not deemed fit enough to start the first leg at the Camp Nou.
Bale is still regaining fitness too following three weeks out with a calf injury although the Welshman might have been more confident of making Madrid’s line-up, having faced Alaves in La Liga on Sunday.
It is the second consecutive Clasico in which Messi has not played from the start, after the Argentinian sat out Barcelona’s 5-1 thrashing of Madrid in October with a broken arm.
Malcom came into the attacking three alongside Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho while for Madrid, Lucas Vazquez was preferred to Bale, joining the in-form Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior up front.
Barca’s slip at home to Valencia ended their eight-match winning run in the league. Madrid have found some form in recent weeks by registering five consecutive victories in all competitions.
Body recovered from wreckage of plane carrying footballer Sala: UK investigator
CARDIFF CITY: A body has been recovered from the wreckage of the plane that was carrying Argentina-born professional soccer player Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in Britain said late on Wednesday.
The agency did not disclose the identity of the body.
Sala, 28, had been en route from Nantes in western France on Jan. 21 to make his debut for Premier League team Cardiff City when the plane disappeared over the English Channel.
The wreckage was found on Sunday following a privately-funded underwater search. Two seat cushions were discovered on the French coast that likely belonged to the aircraft.
A body was visible inside when the wreckage was on the seabed near Guernsey, air accident investigators had said on Monday.
The body was “successfully recovered” but attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful, the AAIB said in a statement on Wednesday. The overall operation was brought to an end due to “poor weather conditions,” the agency said.
Sala had agreed to join Welsh club Cardiff for a club-record fee of 15 million pounds ($19.63 million) from French Ligue 1 club Nantes. He and the pilot are believed to have died as the single-engined Piper Malibu aircraft crashed into the sea.
On Saturday at Cardiff’s home Premier League match against Bournemouth, the Cardiff players held up a T-shirt bearing the image of Sala, who never played a game for the club, after the team scored in the fifth minute.
Fans were handed daffodils as they entered the Cardiff City Stadium. In the 28th minute, a round of applause swelled around the stadium as fans sang Sala’s name.
On Jan. 30, Nantes payed tribute to their former player. Referee Frank Schneider stopped play in the Ligue 1 match against St Etienne for a minute of applause during which Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic was in tears.