Mark McGhee backs Fifa plan for 48-team World Cup

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee has given his backing to the idea of a 48-team World Cup. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee has given his backing to the idea of a 48-team World Cup. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

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Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee feels the Euro 2016 contribution made by the likes of Wales and Iceland proves that expanding the World Cup could be a good idea.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has indicated his desire to increase the format from 32 to 48 teams, with a final decision to be reached by the world governing body’s council in January.

Scotland have not qualified for a World Cup since 1998 and need to finish above England in their qualifying group to guarantee their place at the next finals in Russia in 2018.

Speaking ahead of Scotland’s qualifier against Lithuania on Saturday, McGhee said: “I’d be a fan of any format that gets us to a World Cup. Whatever that format is, we have to live by it. The format this time is pretty difficult.

“I think it was shown in the Euros with teams like Iceland and Wales, the Republic and Northern Ireland, what a fantastic contribution they can make, even if they’re not of the quality of Spain and Germany.

“They maybe made the major contribution, Wales and teams like that, to the competition and made the competition a success. Not just the players, but the supporters of these teams made it a spectacle. I know the Tartan Army would.

“I think there is a space for countries like that and if there’s a route to make it more manageable to get there, then I’m all for that.”

Infantino had previously floated the idea of 40 teams but went further during a speech in Colombia. Quoted by Colombian newspaper El Pais, he said: “From a sporting point of view it is ideal to have 32 countries, while 48 is complicated. So this is an idea, but not definitive. Ideas are to reconsider and find the best. It will all be discussed this month and will be decided in January 2017. They are ideas that are released to see if anyone has a better idea.”

Infantino’s suggestion would see the losers of 16 preliminary knockout round matches go home after just one game, with the 16 winners progressing to join 16 seeded teams in the group stage.

“The World Cup is very well organised in its system with 32 countries, groups and classifications for the second round, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final,” Infantino added. “So the idea is to be 16 seeded countries and a first phase of 32 countries, with a direct elimination game to advance and continue the normal World Cup with 32, but 48 teams go to the party.

“The World Cup is the biggest event in the world – not just sport – because it is a competition, it is a social event, because in the streets speaking world, it has a very important impact. So in my campaign I said that the idea was 40, because, for example, if Colombia is classified, the whole country is in euphoria but if it is eliminated, there is sadness, it is a national tragedy. It shows the power of football and the World Cup.”

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