Qatar 2022 World Cup could be 48-team tournament

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 26, 2016 shows new FIFA president Gianni Infantino reacting after winning the FIFA presidential election during the extraordinary FIFA Congress in Zurich.<br />FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP


Fifa president Gianni Infantino wants to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams – which may mean matches being played in other Gulf states.Football’s world governing body voted last January to expand the tournament from 32 teams for 2026, but the South American confederation Conmebol have asked for that to be brought forward.

BBC Sport understands unofficial talks have taken place with Qatar officials, who remain sceptical given the logistical issues and practicalities of hosting an extra 16 teams.

Fifa will now conduct their own study to determine if the plan – which would involve Qatar hosting a further 16 matches – is feasible.“It seems to me a very interesting idea,” Infantino said after attending a Conmebol meeting in Buenos Aires. “We have to study it seriously and if it is possible, why not?

“I firmly believe in an enlargement because I am convinced that it is good for the development of football. That is why we have proposed it and that is why we have agreed to it since 2026.”

Qatar are currently planning to build eight stadiums – four fewer than bidders for the 48-team 2026 edition have been told they will require.The finals in four years’ time have been scheduled to run across 28 days in November and December after the tournament was moved from its traditional summer slot because of concerns over heat.

Fifa has been very keen on this idea for a number of months, with discreet talks taking place with Qatar. Coincidentally, Infantino has been highly active in the region of late – meetings held with leaders in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for example.

There have also been reports of informal discussions about any potential expanded tournament involving Kuwait. It begs the question of whether Fifa’s grand plan is to create a larger format tournament – one that Qatar cannot host alone due to its size.

A regional tournament would be politically difficult given the local tensions and the ongoing blockade Qatar is subject to. But the attraction for Fifa would be to be seen bringing countries together through football.

Qatar’s regional neighbours would inevitably delight in seeing the country lose the prestige of hosting alone. For those reasons, you can expect Qatar to resist any such move.

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