Belfast Telegraph

Europe is set to get 16 places at expanded World Cup

By Robert Jones

Fifa have announced their proposed allocation of places for the 48-team 2026 World Cup and revealed a six-nation play-off could be used to determine the last two spots.

Football’s world governing body have proposed there will be 16 direct slots for European teams at the expanded tournament, which is the quota Uefa had sought.

The recommendations will be submitted to be approved by the Fifa council in May.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s plan to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 countries was given unanimous backing by the council in January.

The competition, which has had an unchanged format since 1998, is set to feature 16 groups of three teams under the revamp.

Fifa stated: “The recommendation will now be submitted for the ratification of the Fifa council, whose next meeting is scheduled for May 9 in Manama, Bahrain, two days prior to the 67th Fifa congress.”

Infantino and the presidents of each of the six confederations convened yesterday at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich and agreed on the proposed slot allocation.

As well as Europe’s quota being increased by three places to 16, it has been recommended there are nine spots for teams from Africa, eight for Asia, six for South America, six for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and one for Oceania.

The host country will still qualify automatically, with their place being taken from the quota of their confederation.

Fifa’s statement, outlining the plans, added: “In the event of co-hosting, the number of host countries to qualify automatically would be decided by the Fifa council.”

The proposed play-off will feature one team from each confederation with the exception of Uefa, plus one from the host nation’s confederation, with two of the teams being seeded based on the world rankings.

The unseeded teams will be involved in a two-match first round, with the two winners from that then facing a seeded team each for a World Cup berth. The play-off will be contested in the same country as the World Cup and used as a test event, and Fifa specified November 2025 as the likely month in which it would be played.

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin welcomed the Fifa announcement.

He said: “We are satisfied with the proposed slot allocation for the Fifa World Cup as of the 2026 edition, which was agreed today by all confederation presidents at the bureau of the Fifa council meeting in Zurich.

“We feel that Uefa will be fairly represented with a total of 16 national associations competing in the new format of the World Cup.

“We look forward to this proposal being ratified by the Fifa council in Bahrain on May 9.”

Elsewhere, Michel Platini has accused Sepp Blatter of making him “his last scalp” as Fifa president in the affair which saw both banned from football.

Platini was Uefa president until December 2015 when he was banned from football for an initial eight years by Fifa’s ethics committee due to a £1.3million payment made to him on the instruction of Blatter, who suffered the same fate.

Both men had their bans reduced to six years, and Platini’s was later cut to four by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it was enough to prevent him attending Euro 2016 in his native France.

And regarding his former friend Blatter, Platini claimed in French newspaper Le Monde: “In the end, he tried to save his own skin.

“Sepp Blatter does not defend anyone else, he never defended me.

“He’s the most selfish person I have seen in my life.”

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