‘Excellent idea’ to expand World Cup, says Maradona

Former Argentina soccer star Diego Maradona says expanding the World Cup an ‘excellent idea’ after playing game at FIFA HQ in Switzerland.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND (JANUARY 9, 2017) (REUTERS) – Diego Maradona is delighted by plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams and believes it will rekindle interest in the tournament, the former Argentina World Cup winning captain said on Monday (January 9).

The FIFA Council is expected to approve a proposal when it meets on Tuesday (January 10) to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams, starting in 2026.

Maradona, widely regard as one of the greatest players of all time, has been a long-time critic of FIFA but the two sides buried the hatchet last year after Gianni Infantino was elected as president of the global soccer body to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter.

“I’m delighted by Gianni’s initiative because it gives chances to teams that otherwise would start the qualifiers knowing they had no chance of getting to the World Cup,” Maradona told reporters after a legends match at FIFA headquarters.

“It gives each country the dream and it renews the passion for football, it appears to me to be a fantastic idea,” he added.

Maradona said it was important for the sport that FIFA’s image improved after it was battered by a corruption scandal which has seen 40 individuals and two sports marketing companies indicted in the United States.

“We want a FIFA that is clean so people come back to the stadiums, with so much corruption people have got tired of always seeing the same thing,” he said.

Maradona was a frequent critic of Infantino’s predecessor Blatter and claimed that there was “a mafia” inside FIFA.

He had previously criticised Infantino himself, saying it was “very wrong to go from drawing the lots to run for FIFA president.”

The remark was a reference to Infantino’s previous role as general secretary of European football body UEFA, where his duties included supervising the draws for European competitions.

Other players at the legends match included former French forward David Trezeguet, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol and Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta.

Trezeguet and Batistuta raised eyebrows at the 48 team proposal but said the initiative needed to be given time.