ZURICH: FIFA president Gianni Infantino has defended his proposal to expand the World Cup finals from 2026 onwards.

In his campaign manifesto a year ago the then general secretary of European federation UEFA promised an expansion of slots from the current 32 in an attempt to attract votes from beyond his home continent.

In recent months Infantino has followed up on his pledge, suggested that the finals should encompass 40 or 48 national teams; a working group is studying the options and a recommendation to congress is likely to be agreed at a FIFA Council meeting in Zurich in January.

Infantino, in an interview with Reuters, said that 16 further teams could be involved in ‘only’ a knockout tournament in the host nation (or nations) on the eve of the finals proper. This would leave 32 teams competing in the core of the finals.

He said: “Actually now, it is 32 teams but with an additional playoff round where you can bring in teams from different confederations and make sure the best 32 qualify for the group stage.”

‘Dream’ concept

This plan would keep the alive the dream of qualifying until June for an extra 16 teams, compared with the present system, and allow them a taste of the tournament’s atmosphere.

Infantino added: “If we shift the last November date into June, then we move the whole perception of 16 more countries in the world. It is the World Cup fever you can create in a country from November until June, and this brings in kids who register in clubs, broadcasters who go to the local association, sponsors, the whole football movement in a country is really boosted.”

In the interview, Infantino also said he wanted to bring greater transparency to the multi-billion-pound transfer system and supported the idea of introducing squad size limits to stop the ‘hoarding’ of players by rich clubs.