FIFA World Cup expansion gives Hayat more hope [Express Tribune]

FIFA World Cup expansion gives Hayat more hope [Express Tribune]

by Reuters

LAHORE: Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president, Faisal Saleh Hayat has welcomed FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup finals to 48 teams.

Football’s governing body, FIFA, voted last week to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from its current 32, brushing aside concerns that the expansion would lower the overall standard of the tournament and make it too big and unwieldy.

Hayat said the decision would give a great boost to developing football associations.

“The FIFA Council’s decision to increase the slots for the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48 will have a big boosting effect on the upcoming football member associations across the world, especially in Asia, particularly for those countries which have invested a great deal in football for the past many years, who have achieved the desirable results and who wish to progressively graduate to the next levels,” he said.

Hayat is hopeful that Asian countries like Pakistan, who were handicapped by the small number of qualifying slots, would stand to gain from the increase.

“Playing in the World Cup is a dream for any country, especially for countries like Pakistan. We were handicapped before because the slots for Asia were between 4 and 5. The 5th place was always a qualifying place,” said the veteran politician.

Hayat, who has been embroiled in a bitter power struggle for the past year and a half, continued, “Hopefully, it is expected that Asia will have at least — if not more — 8 slots. So that increases the chances of the upcoming countries within Asian community to compete amongst themselves, and let the best teams qualify and go up to the World Cup level.”

“That inspires our boys, that inspires our coaches, the entire stake-holders who are connected with football in Asia, and particularly in Pakistan,” he added.

Pakistan became a member of FIFA in 1948 joining the Asian Football Confederation, and two years later its national team debuted.

Pakistan lost in the first round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, losing out 3-1 to Yemen on aggregate.

FIFA’s 211 member associations each hold one vote in the presidential election, and 135 of them have never played at a World Cup, so expansion of the tournament was always likely to appeal.

The new format, to be introduced in 2026, will feature a first round of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two in each qualifying for a round of 32. From then on, it would be a straightforward knockout contest.

Published in The Express Tribune, 16 January 2016