MOSCOW — Qatari organisers of the 2022 World Cup say they’re open to talks about a 48-team tournament, and can see a format to host it alone.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s wish to add 16 extra teams in 2022 was seen as pushing Qatar toward letting neighboring states into a co-hosting plan.
Pressure on Qatar was eased in Moscow last month when the Infantino-chaired FIFA Council agreed the host nation’s consent was a “precondition” for change.
A senior Qatari official on Saturday said a 48-team tournament could be staged using just the eight stadiums in and around Doha.
“Yes, it’s doable, we just need to figure out how it is done,” Nasser Al Khater, the assistant secretary general of tournament affairs, told reporters. “If the format is done right, it could actually be an edition that is exciting.”
Though Qatar is willing to negotiate, the veto power it apparently gained is key to any progress on the tournament expansion.
“If we feel that it’s not in favour of us or of football, we won’t go for it,” Al Khater said at the opening of a Qatari hospitality house in Moscow’s Gorky Park. “If the format of a 48-team World Cup is an exciting format, and it doesn’t follow the traditional type of format, yeah, why not? It might add an exciting new element.”
One option stands out. A playoff round involving 32 nations from which 16 winners would join 16 seeded teams in a traditional group stage.
“Maybe it’s a sudden death, one-game sudden death and you’re out, and maybe it happens before the rest of the teams come,” Al Khater said.
That format was rejected in January 2017 by FIFA’s ruling council when it agreed to expand the World Cup. The 48 teams at the 2026 edition, which is set to be staged in the United States, Canada and Mexico, will play in 16 groups of three teams.
FIFA said last year that the playoff round idea was disliked because sudden-death losers would feel they were going home before the real World Cup started with 32 teams.
A further barrier to 48 teams in Qatar is any format would add to the 28-day World Cup program already agreed for November-December 2022 — a departure from the regular mid-year schedule.
Europe’s top leagues have said it would be unacceptable for them to lose another weekend of fixtures in November to add extra World Cup playing days.
“Everything we have done is toward a 32-team World Cup,” Al Khater acknowledged.
FIFA and Qatari organisers have said final decisions about the 2022 tournament are needed before the worldwide program of qualifying games starts early next year.
Negotiations at the highest level could take place next weekend when the Emir of Qatar arrives in Moscow to attend the World Cup final.