Nicosia (AFP) – Asia wants a significant increase in its allocation of places in the 48-nation 2026 World Cup, the head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) told AFP.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said Asia was counting on a fair distribution of 2026 World Cup slots, demanding a rise from its four guaranteed places to reflect its economic power and the popularity of football there.

“The Asian continent, given that it’s the biggest continent in the world, deserves a significant increase in its current World Cup slots, given it’s big economic power, and the immense popularity of the sport in Asia, and also the increasing development in the different aspects of the game,” he said in an email interview.

FIFA’s decision in January to expand the World Cup from 32 nations to 48 “allows many national teams to reach the world event for the first time, and will reflect on the development of the game worldwide,” he added.

But he warned that the distribution of slots must be based on “clear and transparent foundations.”

“We have previously expressed our full support to the decision of raising the number of teams at the World Cup to 48 as of 2026, given the strategic importance of such a decision in developing different aspects of football.”

Sheikh Salman declined to put a figure on Asia’s demands at the expanded World Cup although experts say it could be as high as eight.

Asia’s football boss also expressed approval for massive Chinese spending on big name transfers from Europe and South America.

He said the trend “sheds light on Asia, and highlights its growing presence on the international map, and helps in bringing big media and marketing benefits.”

Chinese clubs have splashed out fortunes for top international talent including Chelsea midfielder Oscar who moved to Shanghai SIPG and Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, who joined city rivals Shanghai Shenhua.

He warned, however, that the arrival of top players must not come at the expense of the homegrown talent and hinder the development of the game in China.