FIFA President Gianni Infantino has defended proposals to expand the World Cup to as many as 48 teams following fierce criticism from the European Club Association (ECA).
Infantino said there were “no down sides” to the possibility of growing football’s flagship quadrennial competition and reiterated his claim that a 48-nation tournament would not mean teams have to play more matches.
That was the main bone of contention expressed by ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former Germany international and Bayern Munich chairman, who stressed the number of games being played throughout the year has already reached an unacceptable level.
The ECA Executive Board claimed the World Cup should not be expanded because the current amount of matches being played by teams is “unacceptable”.
This would not be an issue under Infantino’s latest proposal - which is thought to be his preferred choice - as it would see the 2026 competition feature 16 groups of three.
It would involve the nation which finishes bottom in each going home after playing two matches.
The 32 successful nations would then feature in a straight knockout format and FIFA are hopeful the new proposal for a 48-team structure would be easier for fans to understand.
Participating countries would also only play a maximum of seven matches, as is the case in the current format, reducing the potential effect on club sides.
“I would just like to underline that even a 48-team format does not require more matches per team,” Infantino said.
“A maximum seven matches if you win or reach the final, like today.
“It does not require more days in the tournament - 32 days, like today.
“It does not require more stadiums for the tournament - 12, like today.”
Infantino also insisted a larger World Cup would have “no impact on the health or the fatigue of the players because the number of the matches is the same for each player”.
“The only difference is that eight or six more countries will participate in the biggest event of the world, which is the FIFA World Cup," he added.
“So there is really no down side at all.
“There are only up sides.”
Rummenigge earlier this week blasted the proposals as financially and politically motivated in a statement rejecting the FIFA President’s ideas.
Several options for a possible expansion of FIFA’s quadrennial showpiece have been mooted, including two 40-team formats, two 48-team tournaments and keeping its current make up of 32 countries.
The other 48-team option would see the introduction of a play-off round before the main group stage.
Sixteen teams would exit at the preliminary phase, with the remaining 32 proceeding to the usual group and knockout stage structure.
Plans to stage an event involving 40 nations, with countries split into eight groups of five or ten groups of four - where the group winners and the six best runners-up would progress - are also being considered.
FIFA agreed to look into the possible expansion to either 40 or 48 teams at their next Council meeting, due to be held in Zurich in January, in October.
A decision is likely to be made at the meeting, with any changes to the World Cup taking effect from the 2026 competition onwards.