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36 teams in World Cup is ridiculous, thinks Zico

Tokyo: Japan coach Zico has called a proposal to expand the 2006 World Cup finals to 36 teams “ridiculous,” arguing that enlargement could destroy the tournament’s credibility.

The Brazilian, who played in three World Cups, warned that an expanded format would cause fixture congestion, place added strain on players and ultimately dilute the quality of the competition.

“First, even 32 teams are too many. Increasing the World Cup to 36 teams is obviously a political decision. It’s a ridiculous idea,” Zico said in an interview.

“It makes no sense from a football point of view. More games will mean less recovery time before and during the World Cup, which will make it even harder on the players.”

Zico, who won 78 Brazil caps scoring 54 goals, pointed to the likes of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo in illustrating how the physical demands on players were already too heavy.

“Look at Beckham, Zidane, Figo and (Juan Sebastian) Veron. Condition-wise, none of them were right (at the 2002 finals). They were either carrying injuries or totally exhausted,” said Zico, the 1983 World Footballer of the Year.

“On the other hand, Ronaldo and Rivaldo looked really sharp and that made the difference for Brazil. England, France, Portugal...their best players were too tired.”

A 36-team World Cup will not be ratified until a workable format, due to be submitted by South America, is approved by world body Fifa, whose 24-man executive committee will hold a final meeting on the proposal in Paris on June 28-29.

South America proposed the increase in a bid to secure a fifth berth in Germany after losing the half (playoff) place they had for the previous finals.

However, Zico said Asia, allocated four and a half spots for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany regardless of the size of the tournament, did not merit any favours from Fifa anyway.

“How many World Cups have Asian teams won' If you look at what Asia have achieved at football, four places is enough,” said the 50-year-old, who took over the Japan job from Frenchman Philippe Troussier last July.

“Asian teams have to convince the world they deserve more World Cup places through their results on the pitch — just like African teams such as Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal have.”

As co-hosts last year, South Korea became the first Asian team to reach the World Cup semi-finals, while Japan advanced to the last 16.

Meanwhile, at club level, Zico took a swipe at big-spending sides such as Real Madrid for the sky-rocketing transfer fees and player salaries that, he said, threatened to bankrupt the game.

“Football has got itself into a terrible state. Not just Real, but all over Europe clubs spend, spend, spend...often twice as much as their budget to bring in the top players,” said Zico, who joined Italian club Udinese for just over $4 million in 1983.

“If a club is wealthy enough, then fine. But football is all about business now. Going into the red to buy players is no solution.”

Zico, who won four Brazilian championship medals with Flamengo, said Europe still offered brighter prospects than their own country for many young Brazilian players.

“It’s sad that Brazilian fans can only see players like Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos on TV. But when you look at how badly the game is run in Brazil you can understand why they leave,” said Zico, who was a rarity as a Brazilian playing abroad when he went to Italy 20 years ago.

“Players go abroad in their teens these days. In Brazil sometimes you have to go to court just to get your wages paid. It’s no wonder players want to leave the country.”

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