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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.

FIFA says deal close to resolve transfer system complaint

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ZURICH (AP) A complaint to the European Commission challenging soccer’s transfer market is set to be withdrawn by the global group of players’ unions, according to FIFA.

A formal complaint that the trading system is “anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal” was filed in Brussels two years ago by FIFPro.

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After a meeting Thursday of the FIFA stakeholders committee, soccer’s world governing body said a tentative agreement relating to unpaid player wages and transfer fees reached with FIFPro, European clubs and a global leagues’ group can help end the dispute next year.

“It was an issue that was stewing for a long, long, long time,” FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani told reporters after chairing the meeting. “Because of our impetus they came to an agreement.”

FIFPro, which has campaigned to let players terminate contracts after going unpaid for several weeks, cautiously welcomed its “constructive talks with FIFA.”

“(It’s) premature to discuss what might happen next regarding our legal complaint against the transfer system, or any prospective deal until we are satisfied with the proposals put forth,” the Netherlands-based union said.

FIFA has been open to reviewing a transfer system which has seemed weighted in favor of wealthy clubs and was widely criticized in the European summer trading window. Salary caps, limits on squad sizes and restricting loan deals have been suggested.

Representing 65,000 players, FIFPro had suggested its September 2015 filing threatened the biggest upheaval in transfer rules since the Bosman case in 1995.

Then, a European Court of Justice ruling gave players more freedom to move within the European Union and drove up salaries by letting clubs sign out-of-contract players without paying a transfer fee.

The tentative accord FIFA announced Thursday seeks to amend complex transfer regulations and better protect players and clubs from unpaid salaries and transfer fees.

Another shared goal is enforcing cases more efficiently with a clearer path to applying sanctions. Players can wait many months – and even years – pursuing claims for unpaid wages in FIFA judicial bodies.

FIFA’s ruling council must approve the accord next week at a meeting in India. A new draft of transfer regulations could then be put to the Council next March in Zurich, clearing FIFPro to drop its complaint case.

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Delegates at FIFA headquarters Thursday included English Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore and two-time Champions League winner Edwin van der Sar, now CEO at Ajax.

The session also discussed changing rules that govern players’ eligibility for national teams and switching allegiance, FIFA said.

However, talking points such as club salary caps, allowing an extra Copa America tournament in 2020 on the international match calendar, and issues around the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were not raised.

Report: USMNT interim manager to be named this weekend

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What’s next for the U.S. Men’s National Team?

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The first of many dominos may fall this weekend, according to ESPN FC.

The report states that the USMNT is likely to name its interim manager “some time this weekend,” however, U.S. Under-20 manager Tab Ramos likely won’t be the one named.

Ramos is reportedly seeking a full-time position as the USMNT boss, and the interim tag could be a turn off for the 51-year-old former national team midfielder.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had stated following former U.S. manager Bruce Arena’s departure that he expected to make a decision in “seven to 10 days.” A decision this weekend would stick with Gulati’s original intentions.

The Americans will reconvene next month when they take on Portugal on Nov. 14 in an international friendly in Leiria.

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The match was originally scheduled to be played in Faro, but due to recent devastation in the are the fixture will be played in Leiria and all proceeds will go to the victims of wildfire damage. Portugal will also play a friendly four days prior to taking on the U.S. against Saudi Arabia at the same stadium.

Top 5 Premier League storylines: Week 9

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Manchester City continues to dominate its opposition at the top of the Premier League, but there are plenty of other details to watch for this weekend around England’s top flight.

The 2017/18 PL campaign has seen several of the league’s top sides struggle through eight matches, while surprises Watford and Burnley attempt to stake their claim as legitimate title contenders.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Below, PST takes a look at the top 5 storylines around Week 9 of PL action.

Blues hope to end recent woes against surprise Hornets

Chelsea vs. Watford — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

What’s going on with Chelsea? The Blues nearly gave away all three points against Roma in Wednesday’s Champions League clash. That was after Antonio Conte‘s suffered back-to-back league defeats against Manchester City and bottom side Crystal Palace.

Injuries have certainly played a role in some of the club’s shortcomings recently, but there is still plenty of positive squad talent for Chelsea to pick up its performances. N'Golo Kante‘s absence in the midfield is notable because of his high work rate, but the Blues will have to make due in the mean time without the Frenchman.

Eden Hazard‘s brace against Roma is a good sign though for Chelsea, who will need their most dangerous player to influence the attack in addition to Alvaro Morata’s strong early return since joining from Real Madrid.

Clarets look to spoil City’s perfect start

Manchester City vs. Burnley — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The Clarets proved last season that they could be one of the most dangerous home sides in the PL, but 2017 has shown that Sean Dyche‘s men could present a real threat in England’s top flight.

Burnley is unbeaten in seven of its first eight matches, with its lone defeat coming to West Brom. Although that match proved to be a bit of an anomaly given the team’s win over Chelsea on opening day and subsequent results against Tottenham and Liverpool on the road.

The Citizens will present a different threat given the club’s highly-potent attack, but Burnley’s back line has been a revelation thus far by allowing just six goals. That ranks fourth in the PL behind only Man City, Man United and Spurs.

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Kane presents challenge for Reds’ defensive unit

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Prior to Wednesday’s 7-0 thrashing of Maribor in the UCL, Liverpool had drawn three straight matches in all competitions. It doesn’t really have to be stated, but Tottenham is not Maribor… they’re a lot better.

In fact, Harry Kane is budding into one of — if not the best — strikers in the world at the moment. The Englishman has already scored 11 goals in as many matches across all competitions, which poses a massive threat to a Reds defense that has struggled mightily.

Liverpool has conceded 12 goals in eight PL matches, which is only one fewer than Watford for the most allowed out of the top 14 sides in England’s top flight. Jurgen Klopp‘s group has surely built something special up front with the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah threatening opposing back lines, but that is all for not if they cannot establish a solid unit defensively.

Can the Toffees stop the bleeding at the Emirates?

Arsenal vs. Everton — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Two wins in their first eight is far from the expectations that anyone around Everton would have hoped for this season. The departure of Romelu Lukaku was an undoubted blow, but the Toffees have looked in shambles on both sides of the ball through the first eight weeks of play.

Everton is tied for the fourth-most goals conceded thus far in the PL (13), while only managing five finishes up front. Ronald Koeman has a lot of work to do with his side, who sit just two points above the relegation zone. That’s nowhere near the top 6/7, where the club has been accustomed to finishing in recent years.

[ MORE: The biggest surprises, disappointments in UCL so far ]

New-look Hammers head to Old Trafford

Swansea City vs. Leicester City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET online

It’s still hard to pinpoint Leicester’s problems, but another manager has gone by the wayside and the club is running out of excuses for the team’s poor play. We saw a similar struggle from the Foxes last season, after having had won the PL in 2015/16, but the team just looks less desirable at the moment.

The Foxes currently sit in 18th place through eight matches, this despite still having Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel — each of whom are widely-regarded as some of the best players at their position in the PL

For the Swans, goals have been hard to come by through the first weeks of the season. The loss of Gylfi Sigurdsson prior to the new campaign beginning was a massive blow, but the club has still managed eight points thus far.

TFC’s Giovinco says Toronto FC would “avoid relegation” in Serie A

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Toronto FC won’t be leaving Major League Soccer for Serie A any time soon — or probably ever — but wouldn’t it be fun if they had the chance to?

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Star striker Sebastian Giovinco brought up the hypothetical in a recent interview, and the former Italian international believes that his current TFC side is good enough to avoid relegation in Italy’s top flight.

“There’s no doubt that [MLS] has improved,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It’s still not on the same level as the elite European leagues, but it all depends on the desire and the effort you put out there. Big names keep arriving and there are a lot of top quality South Americans.

“[If Toronto were in Serie A] we would avoid relegation easily, maybe finishing in mid-table.”

The comments were prompted by the Atomic Ant after Italy manager manager Gian Piero Ventura openly expressed concerns with Giovinco playing in MLS instead of one of Europe’s top leagues. The same could be said about Ventura’s predecessor and current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.

It’s difficult to equate MLS directly to Serie A, or any other league for that matter, but one thing has been clear throughout Giovinco’s tenure in Toronto. He’s really good.

Giovinco has scored 54 regular season goals for TFC since joining the Canadian side in 2015, while adding 37 assists. Additionally, during last season’s playoff run — which saw Toronto advanced all the way to MLS Cup — Giovinco had four goals and as many assists.