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Asian boss says Qatar too soon for 40-team World Cup

Panaji (India) (AFP) – Asia’s football chief on Tuesday said he was against expanding the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams when Qatar hosts the tournament in 2022, adding that any growth should be put on hold for a decade.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has discussed increasing the number of teams but Asian Football Confederation (AFC) boss Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa said Qatar was too soon to shift to 40.

The comments appear to dash Asian hopes of an early increase to the region’s current allocation of four World Cup spots, plus a place in an intercontinental play-off.

“They (FIFA) have talked about increasing the number of teams from 32 to 40 but it’s still I think a bit early,” Sheikh Salman told AFP in Goa, India.

“We have to look to see if it makes sense and if it’s beneficial for us and for everyone, then why not?

“I don’t think it will be done in time for Qatar. I think 2018 (Russia) and 2022 shouldn’t be touched. If there are any changes it should be from 2026 onwards,” he added.

Disgraced ex-FIFA chief Sepp Blatter was a supporter of more World Cup spots for Asia, and Infantino’s move would be sure to secure more berths for the world’s most populous region.

“To have extra slots for Asia, I’m sure it would be positive,” Sheikh Salman said. 

“(But) we need to talk about the slots not just for Asia but for all confederations,” the Bahraini added, playing down concerns surrounding Qatar.

The granting of the tournament to the Gulf state has been dogged by allegations of vote-buying, while there have also been concerns about Qatar’s preparations.

“Every World Cup there is always some issue and concerns, whether it’s about infrastructure or security, etc. 

“We’ve been through it in the past two we’ve had, but, in the end we’ve had terrific World Cups and I’m sure in Qatar it won’t be any different.

“My feeling is Asia is hosting and it will be one of the most successful World Cups.”

The Bahraini royal was speaking at a luxury hotel in Goa where an AFC extraordinary congress was sensationally brought to a halt after just 20 minutes.

Delegates were due to elect three Asian representatives to the FIFA Council but the poll was postponed after members voted overwhelmingly against supporting the agenda, bring the meeting to an end.

Members were angry that a senior Qatari official had been barred from standing by FIFA just days before the vote, for refusing to cooperate with a corruption investigation.

“The congress has said their word and at the end of the day it’s their decision and we have to respect it,” Sheikh Salman told AFP.

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