The FIFA Council meets on Tuesday to discuss the expansion of the World Cup from 32 to as many as 48 teams. With its vocal opposition to the plans, German football is beating a fairly lonely drum.
The Bundesliga is certain of one thing: World Cup expansion is unnecessary and will only cause problems.
"A World Cup with 48 teams is a wrong signal," said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and the European Club Association. "Only political reasons, and not sport, are being taken into account here. I can't understand why a successful format with 32 teams, which has proven successful in every aspect with the fans, is to be replaced," he told the German publication "Sport Bild."
Who picks up the bill?
An expanded competition was a key component of the campaign that got FIFA President Gianni Infantino elected to the post and the Swiss official is keen to keep his promise to Asian and African football associations in particular. The only question seems to be whether the number of participants will increase to 40 or 48.
"I don't see the appeal of either option," said Schalke sporting director Christian Heidl. "I cannot recall Mr. Infantino ever consulting the clubs who will provide and pay the players involved in the World Cup."
Lesser of two evils
It's an opinion shared by many in Germany's top-flight. Alexander Rosen, Heidl's colleague at high-flying Hoffenheim, also feels the World Cup is fine as it is. "We don't need to debate the fact that there are no sporting reasons for this decision," said Rosen.
Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler, himself a World Cup winner as a player in 1990, appears resigned to the fact that expansion will happen. However, he pleaded for the "lesser of two evils," meaning a limit of 40 teams.
One of the 40-team plans entails having eight groups of five teams with the winners and runners-up advancing to the knockout stage, leading to 80 group matches and 96 overall - 32 more that the current total of 64 games, and a maximum eight matches for any one team.
The favored idea though appears to be a 48-team affair involving 16 groups of three teams from which the top two advance to the last 32. This tournament would have 80 games in total and seven for the top nations.
Less quality through an expanded field is one of the arguments of the critics of the proposals, who also include Joachim Löw. Germany's World Cup-winning coach has even spoken of a need to "cap the valuable resource" of the professional footballer.
Maradona in favor
European football's ruling body UEFA aside, none of the continental associations are against the idea as expansion would mean that more countries would qualify for the World Cup. Having been in charge of the Hungarian national side and now managing at club level, Hertha Berlin coach Pal Dardai can see both sides of the argument.
"It is nice for a small country like Hungary. For the big nations it is annoying. The big stars are exhausted in the first place and then there are even more games," he said.
The day before the meeting, Infantino could count on the support of Argentine football legend Diego Maradona. Speaking to reporters following the "Legends Tournament" at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, he backed the plan to the full.
"It gives teams that otherwise would start the qualifiers knowing they had no chance of getting to the World Cup the dream and it renews the passion for football, it appears to me to be a fantastic idea," said Maradona, adding that the "quality would not fall."
rt/pfd (dpa, AFP)