June kickoff for qualifiers to 2022 World Cup of 32 or 48 teams
ZURICH — Qualifying games for the 2022 World Cup will begin in Asia in June, though political tensions between Qatar and its neighbors means FIFA’s push to expand the tournament is still uncertain.
FIFA’s committee for organizing competitions confirmed on Monday the Asian Football Confederation will kick off the global program. Details from other continents “will follow in due course.”
This gives FIFA until early June to decide on organizing a 32-team World Cup hosted by Qatar, or a 48-team event which would need to spread games around the Middle East.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has persistently pushed for an expanded World Cup, despite a limit of 28 days to play the tournament from Nov. 21-Dec. 18.
However, Qatar seems unlikely to agree on giving up some of the hosting rights it won in 2010.
Qatar is building just eight stadiums for a 64-game tournament while 12 is the ideal number for 48 teams playing 80 games.
FIFA’s decision making runs through its ruling council meeting next week in Miami, and again in Paris days before the June 5 congress of 211 member federations.
FIFA members could favor giving themselves 16 more qualifying slots regardless of diplomatic tensions caused by an ongoing boycott of Qatar by regional rivals.
Pressure on Qatar has been led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. If Qatar eventually agrees to share hosting, Kuwait and Oman are thought more acceptable options.
A June kickoff for qualifying leaves up to three years to complete a program that typically runs to more than 800 games.
Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup took 2 1/2 years, from a preliminary game in March 2015 between East Timor and Mongolia through a November 2017 playoff involving Peru and New Zealand.