FIFA research points to 3-team groups at World Cup

FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Updated 26 December 2016
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FIFA research points to 3-team groups at World Cup

GENEVA: The best and most profitable way to expand the World Cup is a 48-team tournament of 16 three-team groups, according to FIFA’s in-house research which accepts the current 32-nation format produces the highest quality soccer.
The preferred format announced by FIFA President Gianni Infantino this month rates highest in a 64-page analysis of five options for the 2026 World Cup, the first when change can be made.
FIFA concludes “the 48-team (16x3) format would appear to offer the most tangible and intangible value,” in the document seen by The Associated Press.
With extra knockout games in a new Round of 32, the format of 80 matches — each in an exclusive time slot over 32 days — appeals to broadcasters and sponsors and would raise income, FIFA suggested.
FIFA also wants to please fans and broadcasters in “major markets” by creative scheduling of kickoffs in their prime time back home rather than in the host nation.
Revenue could rise almost 20 percent to $6.5 billion, using the projected $5.5 billion income from the 2018 World Cup in Russia as a base comparison. Though organizing costs would also project to rise, from around $2 billion to $2.3 billion, the potential profit would increase by $640 million, the research said.
Still, FIFA cautions ahead of its ruling Council’s planned Jan. 10 vote in Zurich that “it should not be a financial decision“
“Instead, the goal of expanding the FIFA World Cup is to further advance the vision to promote the game of football, protect its integrity and bring the game to all,” the document noted.
However, it does not specify a detail that UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin asked for — how the 16 extra places would be shared among six continental confederations. UEFA now has 13 qualifying slots and could be in line for 15 in a political process set to best reward Africa and Asia.
FIFA acknowledges that quality of play could drop by adding 16 more of its 211 member federations.
The “absolute quality” of soccer — with high-ranked teams playing each other most often — is achieved by the 32-team format being used in Russia and at the 2022 event in Qatar. FIFA said it made 10,000 tournament simulations to reach that conclusion.
Keeping the 32-team format is one option but FIFA’s research shows clear intent to change that was promised during Infantino’s election. He campaigned for a 40-team tournament that would give Europe a new quota of 14.
Infantino now points to “16x3” being the most popular option.
“The big, big, big majority is in favor of the 48 teams with the 16 groups of three,” the FIFA leader said after a Dec. 7 meeting of some members in Singapore.
Infantino previously promoted 48 teams with an opening playoff round involving 32. That idea failed to persuade FIFA members and commercial partners who want more certainty, less short-notice travel for fans, and a minimum of two matches per team.
Expansion for the first time since 1998 is “viable without major concessions on the sporting aspects of the tournament,” FIFA insisted.
The biggest change a 16x3 format could force is penalty shootouts after drawn group games to ensure there is a ‘winner.’ That radical change to soccer rules, first reported by the AP, would help stop teams conspiring to arrange a favorable result in the final group game.
FIFA has sent the research document to Council members and member federations, who want more World Cup slots to help encourage young players and sponsors at home.


Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne close to Manchester City return, says Pep Guardiola

Updated 57 min 30 sec ago
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Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne close to Manchester City return, says Pep Guardiola

MANCHESTER: Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are both on the verge of a return to action for Manchester City as a busy December program gathers pace, manager Pep Guardiola said on Friday.
Aguero, City’s leading scorer, has missed their past four matches with a groin problem but has been able to train without discomfort and could face Everton at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Belgium midfielder De Bruyne suffered ligament damage to his right knee in August and although he returned in October, he then injured his left knee during the League Cup win over Fulham on November 1.
He too has resumed full training and Guardiola will assess both players in the hope that his lengthy casualty list might be about to ease.
The manager, though, is optimistic on 30-year-old Aguero, who has 12 goals in all competitions this season.
“He did the last two training sessions, including on Thursday and he has no pain in his injury so we’ll decide,” he said.
“Kevin is in the same situation as Sergio. Yesterday he trained with no pain, we will see.”
The win over Hoffenheim enabled City to get back on track after the disappointment of seeing their 15-match unbeaten start to the Premier League season end in a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea last Saturday.
“Last season, when we dropped points, we were able to respond with another big run,” he said.