By Michael Church
KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said his controversial plan to expand the FIFA Club World Cup can play a key role in further developing the club game in Asia despite European opposition.
Infantino’s desire to expand the tournament from seven teams to 24 when it is relaunched in 2021 has been opposed by the European Club Association (ECA), which has issued a boycott threat.
But the Swiss administrator told the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress on Saturday that the expansion can help further improve the club game in the 47-member regional body.
“We have been speaking again about how we can improve them and make them better and we have been deciding at the last FIFA Council to give birth to a new FIFA Club World Cup with 24 teams, including three Asian teams,” Infantino said in his address to delegates.
“I witnessed the final of the Asian Champions League in Tehran and there are clubs of great tradition in Asia and it’s important we foster them and it’s important we give them the possibility to shine on the world stage.
“That’s why it’s important to continue to develop our competitions, for example, with the new Club World Cup.”
The reconfigured Club World Cup, which would be played once every four years, would feature eight clubs from Europe, six from South America as well as three each from Asia, Africa and Concacaf – which covers North and Central America nations plus those in the Caribbean – and one from Oceania.
Asian clubs have featured in the tournament since it was created in 2000, with two clubs from the continent – Kashima Antlers from Japan in 2016 and Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates last year – reaching the final. Both lost to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Infantino also reiterated his desire to further investigate expanding the 2022 World Cup finals to 48 teams and asking current hosts Qatar to share the tournament with neighbouring nations.
“We are very happy with the preparations in Qatar and, of course, we have an additional topic on the table that we will bring, maybe, to the FIFA congress as well on June 5 in Paris,” he said.
“And the question on the table is the question on the subject of whether we think we can already increase the number of teams participating at the World Cup from 32 to 48.
“The results of the summit has been very clear, 90 per cent of the associations would like to move to 48 teams because, of course, it boosts football development all over the world if we have 16 more countries participating in a World Cup and we are looking and analysing that with our partners in Qatar.
“Sharing a few games with a few of the neighbouring countries is, of course, an option as well to make it a true World Cup for the world and for the whole Gulf region.
“It’s something to discuss, something to think about and something we are working on with Qatar and together with all of you and, of course, it would be a nice achievement if the first World Cup with 48 teams would be played in Asia.”
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)