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FIFA president Infantino leaning toward a 48-team World Cup

FIFA First "offline" VAR test in Bari - Press Conference

BARI, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 02: FIFA President Gianni Infantino attends FIFA First “offline” VAR test press conference at Stadio San Nicola on September 2, 2016 in Bari, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

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ROISSY, France (AP) After campaigning for a 40-team World Cup, FIFA President Gianni Infantino is now leaning toward an even bigger expansion to 48.

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“I like 48 because it gives a particular flavor, but I’m still really torn,” Infantino said Wednesday after meetings outside Paris.

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Infantino said he is also warming to the introduction of video replays to prevent refereeing errors.

Initial live tests during two friendly matches this year overcame his skepticism about the technology, he said. He hopes replays will be available for the 2018 World Cup, arguing that it is “paradoxical” that television audiences and spectators with mobile phones can now immediately see replays but referees can’t.

“It will not resolve all the questions and all the doubts that a referee can have, but that will help the referee to not commit big mistakes,” Infantino said. “It’s about decisions that change the game: goals, penalties, red cards.

“I really hope that in 2018 we’ll really be able to help World Cup referees to not make serious mistakes.”

His proposed expansion of the 2026 World Cup from the current 32-team format was among topics that Infantino discussed during his two days of meetings with officials from about 20 largely French-speaking soccer associations. The gathering was the first of 11 such summits Infantino has scheduled through March 2017.

“Everyone wants an expansion,” he said. “Some favor 40 teams, others 48.”

The 40-team format that Infantino initially promised when campaigning for the FIFA presidency, which he won in February, would be mathematically clunky. The 48-team proposal would see 16 teams go home after playing just one game in a new opening playoff round. The 16 playoff winners would then join 16 seeded teams to begin a 32-team group stage that follows the current World Cup format, which will still be used in 2018 and 2022.

With 48 teams, there would be 80 matches instead of the current 64 and, Infantino argued, more sustained fervor in more parts of the world.

“Everyone sees that the increase of the participation for the World Cup is really a tool to promote football in more countries,” Infantino said.

A decision will be made on whether to expand the tournament on Jan. 9-10 when the FIFA Council meets in Zurich.