Asia chief predicts positive impact of World Cup expansion
FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams will address Asia's long-standing demand for greater representation in the showpiece tournament, Asian Football Confederation president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said on Wednesday.
The 51-year-old Bahraini attended Tuesday's FIFA Council meeting in which soccer's governing body decided to add 16 more teams to its current 32 from the 2026 edition of the tournament.
"We believe that Asia, as the biggest continent deserves more slots compared with the current quota, looking at the economic power it has, and the popularity for the game in Asia, in addition to the huge development for football at all levels," Shaikh Salman said in a statement.
In the current format, Asia has 4.5 places for the finals, with the top four teams earning direct entry while the fifth-placed side faces an intercontinental playoff.
FIFA is yet to determine the number of extra slots for each continental confederation and Shaikh Salman said the expansion would ignite fresh hopes among Asian countries to make their World Cup finals debut.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) called the expansion a recognition of soccer's growth outside Europe and South America.
"Australia is part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) where the most significant growth and investment is occurring and we expect this trend to continue over the coming years leading up to the World Cup expansion," chief executive David Gallop said.
"As the quality of Asian football continues to improve, AFC Member Associations will justifiably deserve greater representation at the FIFA World Cup."
Similar optimism prevailed across the Tasman Sea with New Zealand Football (NZF) hoping the 11-team Oceania Confederation, who have a 0.5 qualifying spot, would finally be spared the uncertainty of a playoff.
"We can only hope that means a direct entry as a minimum," NZF chief executive Andy Martin said. "We don't know the detail, but we are led to believe that it will mean at least one place.
"If that is the case then that will be fantastic for the whole of Oceania."
Australia (1974 and 2006) and New Zealand (1982 and 2010) are the only sides to qualify for the World Cup finals from Oceania. Australia subsequently joined the AFC in 2006.
"All of the teams in Oceania will be delighted with this news," Martin added.
"It is going to mean that everyone is more competitive and everyone will be pushing harder so we will have to keep on our toes."