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FIFA’s 5 options for a 2026 World Cup of 48, 40 or 32 teams

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA has detailed how it could expand the World Cup in a 64-page analysis of five options for the future of its signature tournament.

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The document, seen by the Associated Press, was sent this week to FIFA Council members who on Jan. 10 should decide the shape of the 2026 World Cup.

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Though retaining the 32-team format is on the table, FIFA and president Gianni Infantino are clearly committed to change.

Infantino believes a 48- or 40-team tournament would increase World Cup fervor in relatively new markets – many of whom voted for him February.

“The FIFA World Cup as a pull factor for development, offering a reward to increased investment and focus on football development locally, is significant,” the research document says.

More teams and more matches also mean higher commercial sales to help FIFA fund itself and its 211 member federations.

Here are some of FIFA’s arguments for and against the five options:

48 TEAMS – 16 GROUPS OF 3

The preferred option, announced by Infantino just this month.

The 16×3 format “offers the certainty of at least two matches per team, avoids any post-play-off let-down periods and, importantly, achieves all of this while retaining the authenticity of the current 32-team format by staying true to the traditional, purist football knockout format,” the document said.

Each of the 80 matches in 32 days has an exclusive time slot – a rise on the current 56 live slots, where the last round of games in each group kicks off at the same time to guard against collusion.

Purists, however, are unlikely to enjoy the idea of penalty shootouts to decide drawn group-stage games. That is to protect against teams colluding on a favorable result that would let both advance to the new Round of 32.

So, fewer “dead rubber” group-stage matches and extra knockout games.

“Direct elimination of the last 32 teams would create drama and this `life-or-death’ format should therefore have a positive impact on audiences,” FIFA suggests.

Audiences also get four daily matches in an intense first 16 days. The first rest day arrives only when the quarterfinals lineup is set.

Compared to $5.5 billion for the next World Cup in Russia, FIFA projects this format would earn the equivalent of $6.5 billion – the most lucrative option.

Organizing costs would also rise, from $2 billion to $2.3 billion, though at least $128 million of that is basic prize money to the 16 extra teams.

Hosts would still be required to provide a maximum of 12 stadiums, as Russia has chosen.

FIFA projects more revenue, happier commercial partners and more engaged fan bases worldwide.

“The most tangible and intangible value,” FIFA’s document said.

48 TEAMS – OPENING 32-TEAM PLAYOFF ROUND

Infantino’s big idea of three months ago to get to 48 teams has probably found too much opposition to succeed.

It also has 80 matches, plus a round of 32 of undoubted high drama- just not where teams, fans and broadcasters want it.

The opening playoff round – of 32 teams playing a “one-and-done” match to join 16 seeded teams – has been viewed as not part of the real World Cup.

FIFA points to “post playoff let-down” and seems against taking that risk.

“The 48-team (16×3) format with a 2-match guarantee per team makes it the most attractive option,” FIFA suggested.

The 4-day playoff round, plus three rest days ahead of a typical 32-teamm group stage would mean a 39-day tournament.

Teams and fans of some teams would either be making travel and ticket plans at short notice or leaving as others arrive for the main event

There is also uncertainty about how many teams from each continent would survive to the groups.

Even the promise of $6.32 billion revenue is likely not enough.

40 TEAMS – 10 GROUPS OF 4

The numbers don’t add up.

Fewer matches, at 76, and a lop-sided bracket where only six of the 10 group runners-up would advance to a Round of 32.

“Any expanded format would present some issues which need to be addressed regarding sporting balance,” FIFA said, with this flawed format in mind.

Unbeaten second-place teams in tough groups could be going home through no fault of their own, if their goal difference was inferior to runner-up from a weaker group.

Also, FIFA projects an increased profit of less than $200 million relative to the 2018 budget. The favored 16×3 format cashes in at $640 million increased profit.

40 TEAMS – 8 GROUPS OF FIVE

The flabbiest option.

The most matches, 88, but too few of them are meaningful.

In the 10,000 tournament simulations FIFA performed, it scored worst in terms of the pure quality of well-matched good teams playing each other.

“Both 48-team formats outperform the 40-team formats, with the 40-team (8×5) clearly the weakest format in this respect,” FIFA said.

Also, the eight-match program required to win, or even reach the semifinals, is a nonstarter.

It is unacceptable to European clubs to release their salaried players for a longer stint of national-team duty.

32 TEAMS

If not perfect, certainly a proven and popular success since it was introduced at the 1998 World Cup in France.

The 64-match bracket is perfect: Two teams advance from each group into a Round of 16.

“The format with the highest absolute quality (of play) would be achieved under the current format,” FIFA acknowledged.

But change has been promised to FIFA members in two separate votes last Feb. 26 in Zurich.

They elected a president who campaigned on offering more invitations to the World Cup party, and they approved anti-corruption FIFA reforms sweetened by the promise of more, and lucrative, World Cup places.

That reform panel which suggested that included Infantino and the now-FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani of Canada – a potential co-host in 2026 with the United States and Mexico.

Pique with the scoop? Neymar “staying” at Barcelona

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While the entire world waits for official word — any word, really — on the possible world record-shattering transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, Gerard Pique just became the world’s most appreciated breaker of transfer news.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Pique, Neymar’s teammate for four seasons at Barca, tweeted (and posted to Instagram) a photo of himself and Neymar, captioned, “Se queda,” or, “He stays.”

[ MOURINHO: United not signing Bale | De Gea not going anywhere ]

Whether he stays or goes this summer, Neymar is about to get paid, and deservedly so. An unquestionable top-five (or -three?) player in the world, he doesn’t turn 26 for another seven months. There has to be someone awaiting the passing of the torch from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, both four years Neymar’s senior, some day soon(-ish), so it should come as no surprise that Barca appear to have moved heaven and earth to retain their Brazilian superstar.

Mourinho “guarantees” De Gea won’t go to Real Madrid

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Jose Mourinho has always said what he wants, when he wants, how he wants — especially when he’s working an ulterior motive.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Example no. 6,394: the Manchester United manager’s comments regarding the future of goalkeeper David De Gea, who has long been linked with a move to Real Madrid, which just so happens to be one of Mourinho’s former employers. Long story short, “It ain’t happening” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I can guarantee that he’s not going this season, that I can, and my feeling is it will be very difficult for him to go. Because he’s a very honest boy, very straight.”

“He was contacted for a long time [by Real]. The club was close, then we open because I always have this feeling of when a player has a desire to go I don’t like to stop players to go because in the end you don’t get what you expect from them if they want to move and they don’t.

“I don’t think the feeling from him [towards Real] is very good. I see him very happy and focused and working better than ever so for me 100% he stays with us.”

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De Gea has two years remaining on his current contract (with an option for one more), which he signed shortly after United and Madrid’s deadline-day debacle of 2015.

Roma’s Moreno happy as Mexican ambassador to Serie A

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Hector Moreno knows his move to AS Roma is a big deal for him, his club, and his country.

That may seem like a bit too much aggrandization, but Moreno joins the biggest club of his accomplished European career. That club nearly ended the scudetto reign of Juventus last season, coming as close as anyone in recent history.

And he’s the first Mexican to play for Roma, a club a bit higher in the pecking order than the homes for previous El Tri members in Serie A (Carlos Salcedo went on loan to Fiorentina last season, while Miguel Layun spent time at Atalanta and Rafa Marquez played three seasons at Verona).

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“I know what people expect from me, and the people in Italy will look back at Mexico as a place to find good players if I do well,” Moreno told ProSoccerTalk ahead of the club’s second Stateside match of the International Champions Cup, Tuesday versus Tottenham Hotspur at Red Bull Arena.

“Football in Mexico is lived with so much passion. It’s so important.”

What they’ve seen from the 29-year-old center back gives them every reason to be proud. Moreno has won the Eredivisie with two clubs (AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven) and was Espanyol’s Player of the Year during his first of three campaigns in La Liga.

Moreno’s offensive acumen shone through his second stint in Holland, and the center back who also plays some left back scored seven goals last season.

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When Roma came calling, he had little hesitation.

“It’s something I have wanted my entire career, for an opportunity like this,” Moreno said. “It’s an amazing challenge to keep going forward in my career.”

Moreno captained El Tri in a 1-1 draw against the United States in World Cup qualifying on June 12, and the Roma signing was announced on June 13. Five days later, he was pushing Mexico over the line with a stoppage time goal against Portugal at the Confederations Cup.

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Again, this was about a statement for both him and his country, especially with Mexico in pole position to finish first in CONCACAF World Cup qualification and the desire to make it past the Round of 16 for the first time in seven tournaments.

“It was a great moment and the feeling was amazing because we fought so hard and we didn’t expect to lose,” Moreno said. “It looks easy to say but with Ronaldo, Ledesma, Pepe, at the end we got a result that we deserved.

“And this will probably help the team to know where we stand because in CONCACAF qualification for World Cup we are almost there and in all due respect it’s a different quality of play than CONCACAF. You can see where you stand and what you have to improve to be on the level. It is the dream forever that we can go to the fifth game, and we can do that in Russia. We’re going to work hard and I hope we can make it.”

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It may surprise some to hear that Moreno also hopes El Tri’s heated rivals in the U.S. qualify for Russia as well.

“I hope so,” Moreno quickly replies. “It would make a good tournament. They always make it through and they have such a good team. It’s always (the hope) that Mexico and U.S. can meet in the World Cup, because they have such good talent as well.”

Roma faces Spurs in New Jersey on Tuesday before a July 30 battle with Juventus at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

What’s another $35 million? Man City sign Danilo from Real Madrid

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Danilo will be fulfilling his ambition to play under Pep Guardiola after signing for Manchester City from Real Madrid on Sunday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The versatile Brazilian defender, who can play on either flank as well as at center back, signed a five-year contract to increase City’s threadbare options at full back.

“There has been strong interest from other clubs, but it has always been my ambition to play for Pep Guardiola,” Danilo said. “As soon as I heard of his interest, I knew immediately I wanted to be a City player.”

City has a shortage of wide defenders after releasing Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna last month and then allowing Aleksandar Kolarov to move to Italian side Roma on Saturday. Kyle Walker, who joined from Tottenham, was the only other full back available to City manager Pep Guardiola before the signing of Danilo.

[ MORE: Mourinho quells speculation of Gareth Bale to Man United ]

“Football is very dynamic and it requires quality players in every position, so I think a player who can play in different positions at a good level has an advantage, and becomes very important for the team as well,” said Danilo, who is awaiting his British work permit. “I prefer just to play. I don’t have a favorite position. I am used to playing as right-back but any time I’m on the pitch in the starting 11, I’m always happy.

“He (Guardiola) told me I’m ready and that I can play in several positions, right back, left back, midfield. I just hope to help him out as he expects.”

Danilo is leaving Madrid two years after joining from Porto, having won back-to-back Champions League titles and the Spanish title once. Financial details of the transfer to City were not disclosed.