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Fifa interested in expanding the World Cup to 48 countries

By Adam McKendry

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has indicated his desire to expand the World Cup finals format from 32 to 48 teams.

The 46-year-old Swiss, who succeeded Sepp Blatter earlier this year, had spoken in his election campaign about making the tournament a 40-team competition.

Speaking in Bogota, Colombia on Monday, Infantino revealed the idea of a further eight nations being added was being mulled over, with a final decision to be reached by the Fifa council in January.

He said: "From a sporting point of view it is ideal to have 32 countries, while 48 is complicated. So this is an idea, but not definitive. Ideas are to reconsider and find the best solution. It will be discussed this month and will be decided in January 2017. They are ideas that are released to see if anyone has a better idea."

Infantino's suggestion would see the losers of 16 preliminary knockout round matches go home after just one game, with the 16 winners progressing to join 16 seeded teams in the group stage.

It would make Northern Ireland's task of qualifying for a fourth World Cup, and their first since 1986, just that little bit easier than what it is at the moment.

As it stands, only the group winners from the nine European groups qualify for the finals automatically, with the eight best runners-up going into a play-off to determine which four nations join them.

"The idea of Fifa is to develop football worldwide, and the World Cup is the biggest event in the world - not just sport - because it is a competition, it is a social event, it has a very important impact," Infantino continued.

"So in my campaign I said that the idea was 40, because, for example, if Colombia is classified, the whole country is in euphoria, there is happiness, but if it is eliminated, there is sadness. It shows the power of football and the World Cup."

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