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BFA: World Cup expansion gives hope

Infantino said that more countries can now dream of playing in the World Cup (Photograph by Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)

The president of the Bermuda Football Association has welcomed Fifa’s decision to increase the World Cup finals from 32 to 48 teams.

Mark Wade called yesterday’s decision “very interesting” as smaller countries like Bermuda have seen their chances of playing in the World Cup increase, although the decision does have its critics.

Bermuda had their best World Cup qualifying campaign under Gary Darrell, when they reached the second qualifying round in 1992 with a team including Shaun Goater, Kyle Lightbourne, Meshach Wade and Kentoine Jennings, along with goalkeeper Dwayne Adams, Albert Caisey, Sammy Swan, Dennis Brown, Voorhees Astwood, Kenny Thompson, Shawn Smith, Neil Paynter, Kevin Grant and Leroy Stevens.

“It’s very interesting to open the World Cup to that amount of teams, it’s never been this many all at once,” said Wade on the decision, that was confirmed by Fifa yesterday.

“It certainly now gives a bit more hope to the smaller nations, certainly it gives us something to think about, like how can we put together a squad that may be able to do it.

“I know some people are concerned about ‘cheapening’ the World Cup with teams that may not be at that level, but you only have to look at Iceland in the last Euros to say that may not be the case. Even in our own region where Costa Rica did so well [at the 2014 World Cup].

“Expanding the World Cup has its pros and cons but overall I think it is a positive thing. Maybe it will help raise the standards for the countries that are typically outside of the World Cup. We are a bit of a way from the powerhouses in global football but it certainly gives hope to the teams just outside that 32-World Cup list.

“For us, our immediate goal is how we can beat the best in the Caribbean and make the Gold Cup.”

The inaugural World Cup, staged in 1930 in Uruguay, featured just 13 teams and 189 matches.

Sixteen teams took part from 1934, eight more were added from 1982 onwards and, finally, another eight in 1998. A total of 135 of Fifa’s 211 members have never qualified for a World Cup.

After yesterday’s decision Fifa brushed aside concerns that the expansion would lower the overall standard of the tournament and make it too big and uncompetitive, particularly during the group stages.

Gianni Infantino, the new Fifa president, fulfilled a promise he made during last year’s election campaign, saying the move meant that more countries can now dream of playing in the World Cup.

“It’s not the 20th century any more, it’s the 21st century,” Infantino said.

“Football is more than Europe and South America. Football is global.”

The bigger World Cup, to be introduced in 2026, will feature a first round of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two in each qualifying for a round of 32. From then on, it would be a straightforward knockout contest.

The hosts of the 2026 tournament will be decided in May 2020.

The Concacaf Confederation, representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, is seen as a strong contender, possibly providing a joint bid from at least two from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

n Bermuda will be in action next Sunday when they host Canada in a friendly international at the National Stadium. The BFA is in the process now of determining which overseas-based players will be available for the match.

“Maurice Lowe [technical director] is making contact with who’s available to see which clubs, if any, will release players as this match is outside a Fifa [international] window,” Wade said.

“That’s entirely up to the clubs and the players to decide, we’re not going to put any kind of pressure on the players in that regard.

“However, there are some players who may be outside of their first team or playing in the under-21s or under-23s who may want to come to Bermuda to play a match of this calibre.

“Those discussions are ongoing and I expect in the coming days to have a list from the head coach [Andrew Bascome] of who he wants to have a look at in this match.”