Azkals, Asian teams to benefit from broadened World Cup field
Saying it increases the chance of the Philippines to finally qualify for the World Cup, Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta yesterday welcomed the decision of the International Football Federation (Fifa) to expand the sport’s showpiece competition from 32 to 48 teams in 2026.
Araneta said he supports the controversial decision made by the sport’s world governing body yesterday in Zurich that now gives more spots for Asian countries to gain entry in the prestigious tournament.
“I think it’s not just good for the Philippines, but also Asian countries that will now have better chances in the World Cup,” Araneta said, noting that the continent will now be assured of eight spots in the competition and a spot in the playoff, up from four and one playoff seat in the current format.
“I don’t think it lessens the prestige of the tournament. It’s still held once every four years and the best teams in the world will still be there.”
Araneta believes the gap in quality among the world’s football powers and other fast-rising countries is now slimmer, which will mean more competitive games in the tournament.
The Philippines has never made the World Cup, but the Azkals reached the second round of qualifying for the 2018 tournament where they beat North Korea, a country that saw action in the South Africa edition in 2010.
The latest decision was a result of a series of consultations with Fifa member associations in the past few months with Fifa president Gianni Infantino conducting the meetings.
The new format will see an initial stage of 16 groups of three teams each. The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stage.