THE Asian Football Confederation says the continent deserves to be among the chief recipients of extra World Cup places following FIFA’s decision to expand the event to 48 teams.
All confederations will be eager to capture as many as possible of the extra spots on offer from 2026 onward, and AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa said the rapid growth in Asia’s population warranted much more than the current four direct qualifying berths at the World Cup.
“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,” Sheikh Salman said.
The expansion was a key election promise of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who beat Sheikh Salman to the post in polls early last year.
The Asian confederation spreads from the Middle East to East Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea.
Australia, which has been part of the Asian confederation since the 2006 World Cup, backed the calls for more World Cup berths for the region.
Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop said the decision to expand the World Cup recognized the growth of the game outside of Europe and South America.
“Australia is part of the Asian Football Confederation 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,” Gallop said.
“As the quality of Asian football continues to improve, AFC member associations will justifiably deserve greater representation.”
Similar optimism prevailed across the Tasman Sea with New Zealand Football hoping the 11-team Oceania Confederation, which has 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.”
In China, which is 82nd in the FIFA rankings but has set its sights on becoming a global football power, Xinhua news agency said FIFA’s move represented a big opportunity.
“Even if the levels of skill and strategy in the Chinese men’s football do not grow in leaps and bounds by 2026, the initial objectives of (China’s) football reform will have been realized,” a Xinhua commentary said.
“By then, with the added bonus of World Cup expansion, it is highly possible that China’s return to the World Cup will no longer be just a dream.”
FIFA projects the expanded World Cup will generate increased profit of US$640 million despite some extra operating costs and prize money for teams. FIFA’s six continents should find out by May how many extra places they will each get.