London: Michel Platini will push for the World Cup finals to be expanded from 32 to 40 teams and is confident Fifa will back what would be the most significant change to the tournament in two decades.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter last week called for more African and Asian representation at football’s biggest event, something that was widely regarded as a call for the number of European teams to be cut.
But Uefa counterpart Platini has turned the argument on its head by revealing he wants to add eight countries to the mix, two from Africa, two from Asia, two from North and Central America, one from Oceania and one from Europe.
The Frenchman claimed his proposal, which would see the group stages expanded from eight groups of four to eight groups of five from the 2018 event in Russia, would only extend the current 31-day tournament by three days and would be “good for everybody”.
Platini said: “I totally agree with Blatter that we need more African and Asian countries. But instead of taking away some European, we have to go to 40 teams. We can add two African, two Asiatic, two American, one Oceania and one from Europe.”
The World Cup expanded from 24 to 32 teams in 1998 and from 16 teams to 24 in 1982, with Fifa’s membership having also grown by more than 60 associations between 1975 and 2002.
Platini added: “Football is changing and we now we have 209 associations. There are more countries so why reduce? You have three days more of competition and you make more people happy.”
One of seven Fifa vice-presidents, Platini revealed he would consult its executive committee about his proposal as soon as possible, with its next meeting ahead of December’s 2014 World Cup finals draw in Salvador, Brazil. “Of course they will vote for it,” he added.
His declaration comes amid increased tension with Blatter before the next Fifa presidential election in 2015, despite both agreeing a pact not to declare their candidacy before next year’s World Cup.
Asked what Blatter made of his idea, Platini said: “I haven’t told him yet.”
Europe currently have 13 guaranteed World Cup finals berths, with South America and Africa having five each, Asia four and North and Central America three.
The remaining two places are decided by play-offs.
Meanwhile, Platini has defiantly insisted that “no one is tougher on racism than Uefa” after Blatter attacked the European governing body's punishments as too soft, criticising Uefa’s ground closures as “a nonsense”.
Blatter and Platini are at odds in the fight against racism in football, a disagreement that spilt out in public on Saturday night and continued at the dinner table at the FA's 150th birthday celebrations.
The Fifa president wants points deductions in worst cases. Platini, said that punishments must target racist fans, not teams.
The disagreement was fuelled by Blatter on Saturday when he used his speech in London to launch a blatant attack on Platini's handling of the race issue.
“It is a nonsense to have matches played without spectators because it is against the spirit of football and against the visiting team,” Blatter said.
“It is all nonsense. We can do something better to fight racism and discrimination. This is one of the villains we have today in our game. It is only with harsh sanctions that racism and discrimination can be washed out of football.”
Although ground closures were included in the raft of measures approved at Fifa’s Congress in May, Blatter has urged all football bodies to come down harder by implementing point deductions or expulsion in repeat cases.
“If we don't have zero tolerance then we fail. They have to have the courage to do it,” Blatter said. “We can’t wait.”
Platini took up the debate with Blatter after his speech, insisting that it was wrong to sanction teams. “I would never take away points or throw a team out of the competition,” Platini said.
“That is punishing the players and it’s not their fault. You have to punish the fans, not the players.”