Zurich: Diego Maradona backed controversial plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams, a day before world football's powerful governing council faces a key decision on the issue.
"It sounds like a fantastic idea to me," the footballing legend said at Fifa's headquarters here. "This will give more possibilities to countries that have never reached that level of competition," Maradona added.
The hobbled Maradona spoke dripping with sweat after rumbling his way through a mini-tournament involving former football greats and current executives. Fifa president Gianni Infantino has organised a series of so-called "Legends Tournaments" since taking charge of the body last year, playing alongside former football stars in front of assembled media.
Maradona 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 that 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 presidential post."
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.
As for the World Cup, Infantino has made expanding the quadrennial event the centrepiece of his young administration, but his plans have faced criticism, including from those who warn that it will dilute the quality of play at football's showcase event.
"The quality will not fall," Maradona said when asked about those concerns.
Infantino has been courting support from the game's most powerful figures ahead of the Fifa council meet. The influential panel will review five proposals on Tuesday - leaving the World Cup unchanged at 32 teams, two proposals for a 40-team competition and two 48-team scenarios.
Infantino is said to be backing a 48-team option with 16 groups of three, which would come into effect from the 2026 competition. Any decision made by the council will have to be approved by Fifa's full 211 members at the body's next congress.
In Infantino's favoured option, the number of games rises from 64 to 80, but the finals can still be played within the existing tournament duration of 32 days while a nation will play no more than seven matches, as in the present format.
One potential flaw is that penalty shoot-outs may have to be introduced to settle drawn group matches in order to prevent two sides playing out a result in the last round of games that ensures both countries progress.
Speaking at a sports conference in Dubai in December, Infantino said the World Cup has to be "more inclusive" and that expansion will also benefit "the development of football all over the world."
"There is nothing bigger in terms of boosting football in a country than participating in a World Cup," he had also said.