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Chicago Daily Herald
FIFA is set to make the World Cup bigger and richer, even if the price to pay is lower quality soccer.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino hopes his ruling Council will agree Tuesday to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 nations, playing in 16 groups of three teams.
A decision could be delayed if some Council members demand to know exactly how many qualifying places each continent will get before agreeing to scrap the 32-team format. It has been successful, popular and profitable since 1998 and is locked in for the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
The prize of 16 extra places, and the biggest increases to Africa and Asia, has "overwhelming" support from FIFA's 211 member federations, Infantino has said.
Their promise of extra funding from Zurich could also be secured by FIFA's forecast 20 percent rise in rights fees paid by broadcasters and sponsors.
"Financially, the 48-team format is the most appealing or successful simply because the sporting element is prevailing and every match is important," Infantino said two weeks ago. "The decision should not be financially driven, neither in terms of revenue or costs ... but the driver should really be the development of football and boosting football all over the world."
World Cup champion Germany is not in favor. It argued that diluting the number of European and South American teams - which won all 20 titles since 1930 - could "strengthen the imbalance" seen at some tournaments.
"The (German soccer federation) fundamentally believe that the current 32-team format is the best option," its president Reinhard Grindel said last week. Germany has no delegate at Tuesday's meeting though Grindel is set to join the FIFA Council in May.
FIFA acknowledged the risk of lower standards in a research document sent to members last month.
The "absolute quality" of soccer, defined by high-ranked teams playing each other most often, is achieved by 32 teams, FIFA said, citing 10,000 tournament simulations made to reach that conclusion.
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