FIFA boss wonders if Qatar could cope with enlarged World Cup

Gianni Infantino made a visit to Doha in April to see how Qatar's preparations are coming along. (AFP)
Updated 05 June 2018

FIFA boss wonders if Qatar could cope with enlarged World Cup

  • Infantino would like 48 teams at next World Cup
  • 'Obviously, Qatar will need to agree'

ZURICH: FIFA’s president indicated that the 2022 World Cup cannot be expanded to 48 teams without agreement from hosts Qatar, while backing further study of the “interesting” proposal.
Speaking just 10 days before the 2018 tournament kicks off in Russia, Gianni Infantino did not categorically say that Qatar has the right to veto an enlarged 2022 tournament if FIFA voters decide in favor of an expansion.
But he said that imposing a 48-team competition on Qatar — which is in the thick of preparations for a 32-nation tournament — would be “absolutely” unfair.
“Obviously, Qatar will need to agree and it will be the first to agree because we need to work together,” Infantino told reporters at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich.
Infantino’s support for a 48-team World Cup is not in doubt.
Expanding the tournament by 16 teams for 2026 was among his first signature achievements after taking charge of FIFA two years ago.
He credited South American confederation CONMEBOL with suggesting the enlargement be pushed up in four years.
“I find the CONMEBOL proposal interesting to study,” he said.
FIFA voters convening in Russia next week will decide strictly on whether 48 teams in 2022 merits closer analysis.
Infantino insisted it was premature to speculate on the likelihood of the idea moving forward.
“We have a contract with the Qataris. They have been awarded a World Cup with 32 teams and that is how it is,” the FIFA boss said. “Contracts are there to be respected.”
But, he also raised a prospect that some experts say poses the greatest threat to Doha’s World Cup aspirations: Shared hosting.
“Of course more teams means more stadiums, more venues, more hotels, more transportation,” Infantino said.
“Whether this is possible to be done only in Qatar of course is a question mark, so of course this should be looked into.”
The 2022 World Cup has been a source of controversy since the day the gas-rich Gulf state was awarded the tournament eight years ago.
Widespread corruption allegations during the bidding process remain under criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors.
Reported human rights abuses of migrant workers building stadia have also dogged the preparations.
Adding to all that is the punishing economic embargo imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbors over Doha’s alleged support for terrorism.
Qatar has overcome those substantial obstacles and kept World Cup preparations on track.
But for Simon Chadwick, a sports and geopolitics expert at Britain’s Salford University, sharing the World Cup would mark “something of a defeat for Doha.”
Shared hosting for the 2026 edition may become a reality next week, with FIFA’s congress set to choose between a joint Canada-US-Mexico bid and a rival proposal from Morocco.
The North American bid has long been seen as the overwhelming favorite — and Infantino’s preferred choice — but it has faced increasingly stiff competition from Morocco in recent months.
On Friday, FIFA inspectors rated the African bid’s stadia, accommodation and transport as “high risk,” while giving the North American proposal solid marks.
The FIFA Task Force technically had the right to eliminate Morocco from competition but instead decided to let voters make the ultimate decision.
This has raised some concern that despite the weaker technical and financial credentials, Morocco could win out in what would be perceived as a direct rebuke of US President Donald Trump, who in April appeared to threaten nations that did not side with North America.
Infantino underscored his hope that FIFA voters would not let politics influence their decision.
“It should really be based on football,” he said.

Al Somah double condemns Al Ittihad to another alarming defeat in Saudi Derby

Updated 10 August 2020

Al Somah double condemns Al Ittihad to another alarming defeat in Saudi Derby

  • A goal in each half by Syrian international Omar Al Somah had just secured a 2-1 win for fierce rivals Al Ahli
  • With only six matches of the Saudi Professional League left, the eight-time league champions are now facing the real danger of relegation

DUBAI: At the final whistle, the haunted faces of Al Ittihad’s players told the whole story.

A goal in each half by Syrian international Omar Al Somah had just secured a 2-1 win for fierce rivals Al Ahli, and the slumped, crestfallen players, not to mention Brazilian coach Fabio Carille, were coming to terms with the enormity of the defeat and its consequences. 

With only six matches of the Saudi Professional League left, the eight-time league champions are now facing the real danger of relegation from the Saudi top flight. Al Ittihad now sit only one place and one point ahead of Al Fateh who currently occupy 14th place, the last of the relegation spots.

Despite several underperforming seasons, relegation for the country’s oldest club would still have been unthinkable at the start of the season, but after their defeat in the Saudi Derby, is now an alarming possibility.

Al Ahli had started the brighter of the two and stopped the home team from playing out from the back. The visitors eventually took the lead after 30 minutes, Al Somah tapping from close range after a shot by Abdulrahman Ghareeb had been saved.

However, Al Ittihad hit back 11 minutes later after some fine work from Fahad Al Muwallad, the ball eventually finding its way to  Romarinho, whose flicked pass was volleyed home brilliantly by Abdulellah Al Malki.

Al Ittihad had the majority of the early possession in the second half, with Al Ahli happy to play a patient, containment game and hit them on the break.

And it was from one of these counter-attacks that Al Ahli settled the match on 64 minutes, Al Somah collecting a long pass from captain Hussein Abdulghani on his chest before finishing in typical deadly fashion. A desperate Al Ittihad could not find a way back.

The 43-year-old Abdulghani said he had missed taking part in this derby over the last 13 years, a period in which he enjoyed a nomadic career at Al Rayyan, Neuchatel Xamax, Al NAssr, Very and Ohod.

“Every player looks forward to playing these games,” he said. “Perhaps today the match lacked a little bit of excitement. You know that the fans of Al Ittihad and Al Ahli usually give these matches a unique flavor. But for reasons we all know that was missing today. On a personal note, I’ve missed these derby matches, and I’m glad today we managed to get the three points.” 

Al Ahli had struggled for results before the enforced break, but have now recorded two wins since the resumption of the SPL under Serbian coach Vladan Milojević, who replaced the departed Christian Gross before the enforced break.

“Earlier in the season, the change of coaches affected the team in several ways,” Abdulghani added. “Maybe not all teams benefitted from the break in a big way. But in the three weeks of training after the break we got accustomed to the coach’s methods better.”

Al Ahli’s captain also had some comforting words for the beaten opponents.

“I always say that in big or derby matches, the technical difference between the two dreams is not the decisive factor,” he said. “Perhaps the extra pressure on Al Ittihad affected them more. No one expected to see Al Ittihad in this situation, they are such a big club with many domestic and international trophies. I’m sure they’ll be back, and I see that Al Ahli and Al Ittihad complement each other, in terms of competing against each other and improving each other.”

Match winner Al Somah was happy for the three points that kept Al Ahli on the tails of Al Nassr. in second place, but missed the presence of the fans.

“It was strange derby, a sad derby,” he said. “But I’m grateful we could make our fans happy. After the break, we didn’t win any of our friendly matches. The team needed a bit more time, and we still have a few players absent as well. Thankfully, today I was able to take advantage of the two chances I got to score.”

Al Somah’s double brings him closer to Abdulrazak Hamdallah of Al Nassr at the top of the goalscorer’s charts, the Moroccan having last season also succeeded the Syrian as the SPL’s leading marksman.

“Of course there is always ambition to be top scorer,” Al Somah said. “But the team is always a priority. To compete with Abdulrazak Hamdallah and Gomis, you must work hard and push yourself, and there are still six matches left. But the most important thing is for the team to keep on winning.”

A clearly dejected Ittihad captain Karirm El Ahmadi lamented the defensive mistakes which had condemned his team to a second straight defeat since the league’s restart.

“The match was like the one against Abha,” he said. “Getting back to 1-1 restores your confidence in yourself, but then the mistakes came at a bad time, you saw the second goal we conceded today, it is similar to the second goal against Al Abha.”

“I really don’t know why the mistakes keep happening,” El Ahmadi added. “It’s not possible to win matches when these mistakes happen, it’s important to focus. A draw today against Al Ahli would have been positive going into the next match against Al Ettifaq.”

In the earlier matches Al Ettifaq had kicked off round 24 of the disrupted SPL season with a 3-2 win over Al Fayha, second-bottom Damac gave themselves a slim hope of escaping the drop with 2-1 home win over Al Faisaly, and fourth-placed Al Wehda and Al Raed in sixth played out a 0-0 draw.