ZURICH (Reuters) - Diego Maradona is delighted by plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams and Argentina’s former captain said on Monday that it would rekindle interest in the tournament.
The FIFA Council is expected to approve a proposal to expand the finals from 32 to 48 teams, starting in 2026, when it meets on Tuesday.
Maradona, one of the greatest players to grace the game, has been a long-time critic of FIFA but the two sides buried the hatchet last year after Gianni Infantino was elected president of the global soccer body to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter.
“I‘m delighted by Gianni’s initiative because it gives chances to teams that otherwise would start the qualifiers knowing they had no chance of getting to the World Cup,” Maradona told reporters after a veterans’ match at FIFA headquarters.
“It gives each country the dream and it renews the passion for football, it appears to me to be a fantastic idea,” added Maradona, who captained Argentina to World Cup success in 1986.
He said it was important for the sport that FIFA’s image improved after it was battered by a corruption scandal that has seen 40 individuals and two sports marketing companies indicted in the United States.
“We want a FIFA that is clean so people come back to the stadiums, with so much corruption people have got tired of always seeing the same thing,” said the 56-year-old.
Maradona was a frequent critic of Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter and claimed there was “a mafia” inside FIFA.
He had also previously criticised Infantino, saying it was “very wrong to go from drawing the lots to running for FIFA president.”
The remark was a reference to Infantino’s previous role as general secretary of European soccer governing body UEFA, where his duties included supervising draws for European competitions.
Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris