Sepp Blatter critical of FIFA president Infantino

Former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, says FIFA has blundered by expanding the World Cup finals from 32 teams to 48 in 2026.

The FIFA congress in Bahrain has endorsed a decision taken in January by the FIFA Council at the behest of president Gianni Infantino.

Offering more World Cup finals slots and increasing the levels of development funding were two key planks in Infantino’s manifesto when he campaigned to succeed banned and disgraced Blatter as president in February last year.

Originally, the World Cup was conceived as a 16-team event. This was lifted to 24 in 1982 and then 32 in France in 1998, always with an initial group stage of four-team mini-leagues. In 2026 the group stage will feature 16 mini-leagues of three teams each; it has yet to be decided whether drawn matches will be decided by penalty shootouts.

Blatter said: “In Spain in 1982 the second group stage featured three-team groups but we took it out of the system because it did not work. The 32-team World Cup has worked superbly since 1998.

“But 48 teams playing in groups by three is not good. Three-team groups are in conflict with the spirit of the game with one team always having a free day while the other two play.”

Blatter’s favourite World Cup from all his active years in FIFA between 1975 and 2015, as general secretary and then president, was 2010 in South Africa.

He said: “[This is] because no-one, including the members of FIFA’s executive committee, believed that Africa would be capable of organising a World Cup – and South Africa was not just simply capable of it, but organised a fantastic World Cup and proved that Africa is not simply a continent which was once colonised but an independent, proud continent.”

Blatter also conceded that it was during the 2010 World Cup that he changed his mind about opposing goal-line technology.

He said: “It was a long route to the acceptance of goal-line technology. For me personally it was England’s match in South Africa when Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany was not given which convinced me that there was a need for this assistance.”

However Blatter believes firmly that it was the World Cup which brought about his downfall or, more specifically, the controversial awards in December 2010 to Russia and Qatar of the 2018 and 2022 finals.

In another development, FIFA has taken down a monolithic reminder of former president Sepp Blatter from its headquarters.

According to the FIFA media outlet, “Since the building officially opened at a cost of US$200 million in 2007, a metre-high silver metal plaque listing members of that year’s Blatter-chaired FIFA Executive Committee was fixed to a stone column in the reception area.

Visitors could read an inauguration message in French above names headed by Blatter, who was serving a six-year ban for unethical conduct.

Most men on the list had since been sanctioned by FIFA’s ethics committee, indicted by the US Department of Justice or were under investigation by Swiss federal prosecutors.

Four medal-sized circles of grey stone had replaced the plaque’s settings in the wall.

FIFA has yet to advance reasons for removing the plaque.