FORMER Scotland managers Craig Levein and Craig Brown last night registered unqualified support for Michel Platini’s call for the World Cup to be expanded from 32 to 40 teams.
Uefa president Platini, who is expected to be a strong contender for the leadership of Fifa at the next election in 2015, wants the global showpiece to be yet more inclusive, having already grown considerably from a genesis of 13 teams in 1930.
Rather than simply fall in with Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s mission to give more African and Asian nations exposure at the highest level, Platini wants to appease his Uefa membership too, recommending that Europe’s quota be raised by at least one if the lion’s share of the extra places should go to continents consisting mainly of “developing nations”.
The earliest that a 40-team World Cup could come into being would be the 2018 finals in Russia, and although an increase of only one European nation would hardly transform the chances of Scotland ending a 20-year absence to take part that summer, Levein and Brown can only see merit in Platini’s vision.
Asked for his assessment of the French midfield legend’s latest proposal, Levein told The Scotsman: “There is only one answer, as far as I’m concerned, and that is yes. Anything that gives us a better chance of qualifying for major tournaments must be good for Scotland.
“Primarily that would be my main concern – what is good for us and for the supporters and for the feelgood factor around the country. Anything that would be a help to Scottish football I would be in favour of.”
Levein’s greatest regret, he said earlier this week, about his stewardship of Scotland coming to an end 12 months ago was that he did not lead the country to a summer finals for the first time since the 1998 World Cup in France. Gordon Strachan is now the man in charge, working against a backdrop of renewed optimism that the next qualifying campaign could finally be the one when Scotland deliver.
That is partly attributable to the team’s recovery under Strachan and partly to the fact that Uefa has swollen the European Championship finals from 24 to 32 teams in time for the showpiece in France in 2016. Whether or not that will cheapen the Euros remains to be seen, but Levein does not believe an expansion of the World Cup would do the great gala any undue harm.
“You always want to encourage developing countries, and there is no doubt that when your country does qualify for a major tournament, the interest becomes enormous and it has very long-term after-effects,” added Levein.
“I don’t think the tournament has been cheapened. The number of teams at the World Cup has been greatly increased as the years have gone by. It is always going to end in a final and end with a winner. The latter stages are always going to involve major countries.
“I just think that [an expansion] would increase the amount of people who have an interest in football – that can only be good for football.”
Brown, who was the last man to carry the nation’s expectations into a World Cup, added: “The more the better. I don’t care if it’s 50 or 40 nations, anything that would help us get back I would be in favour of. There are over 200 countries in Fifa so 40 is less than a fifth, less than 20 per cent. That’s still a small percentage and it would still be a great achievement to get there.”
Europe currently has 13 berths in the 32-team World Cup, while Africa has five and Asia four plus a play-off place. Platini said yesterday: “Instead of taking away some European [nations], we have to go to 40 teams in the World Cup. We can add two African, two Asiatic, two American and one from Europe. I support this idea totally.”
The SFA made no comment on the proposed revamp yesterday.