FIFA panels against WC berth increase

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Two influential FIFA committees on Friday opposed the proposal to increase the number of berths at the 2006 World Cup finals from 32 to 36 as too complicated an

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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Two influential FIFA committees on Friday opposed the proposal to increase the number of berths at the 2006 World Cup finals from 32 to 36 as too complicated and expensive. "The great majority of the members of the FIFA Technical and Football Committee expressed opposition to the proposal," said a statement released on the eve of a meeting of FIFA's decision making executive board that will discuss the issue. FIFA said that during discussions led by Angel Maria Villar of Spain, chairman of the Football Committee, and French soccer great Michel Platini, chairman of the Technical Committee, "the large majority of members shared the opinion that the number of teams competing in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals should remain at 32." FIFA's Executive Committee meets Saturday to discuss the plan, put forward by the South American federation CONMEBOL after the world soccer body decided to guarantee a place for Oceania in the finals and reduce South America's berths from five to four. FIFA said the main arguments against the change cited were as follows:
  • Having 36 teams in nine groups of four is not feasible. The next viable number of teams would be 40, drawn in eight groups of five, whereby an extra 32 matches would need to be played.
  • The seven best second-placed teams could not be determined simultaneously, which would result in an extended period of inactivity for some teams and could potentially also lead to arranged results.
  • The current format with 32 teams, with the first- and second-placed teams in each group qualifying for the knock-out rounds, is not only simple in mathematical terms but is also fair from a sporting perspective.
  • Increasing the number of teams would increase the financial and logistical requirements, but would not bring about a corresponding increase in revenue and would prolong the competition inordinately.
Germany 2006 chief Franz Beckenbauer said last week that the organizers could accommodate the increased field but added that "32 teams is the best format for the tournament." He said a tournament with 36 teams would have 70 games instead of the current 64 but that the event would remain spread out between 12 host cities. If FIFA decided to change the format, it would then have to decide where to attribute the new berths, and continental federations would have to change their qualifying tournaments accordingly. The other main item on the agenda of the executive committee meeting is whether to move or postpone the women's World Cup because of the outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, in Asia. The tournament is due to take place September 23-October 11 in and around Shanghai. FIFA says its sports medical committee is in daily contact with the World Health Organization over the SARS outbreak that has killed at least 405 people -- the majority in China and neighboring Hong Kong – and sickened more than 5,900. Although the event is still some way off, taking a decision at this stage might give FIFA time to find an alternative location. Sixteen teams are due to take part in the women's World Cup finals. Already qualified are Nigeria, Ghana, United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden and France. China qualifies as the host but other Asian places are yet to be decided -- the qualifying tournament in Thailand was moved from April to June because of the SARS situation. Asia will have two confirmed places while the third team will play off against Mexico for the right to the final berth. The draw to fix the groups for the finals also was postponed because of concerns over SARS. Other issues on the agenda for Saturday's meeting include whether players receiving a red card should continue to receive an automatic ban of at least one match. (AP)

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