Football World Cup stays at 32 teams

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The 2006 World Cup will remain at 32 teams, with South America gaining the chance to send a fifth team to the tournament through playoffs.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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The 2006 World Cup will remain at 32 teams, with South America gaining the chance to send a fifth team to the tournament through playoffs and Oceania losing its guaranteed berth. FIFA's executive committee made the decision Saturday, turning aside a proposal by South America to increase the field by four nations to 36. FIFA also said the field will not be increased for the 2010 tournament. The vote was 22-1, with Oceania opposing the move. The executive committee voted last December to give Oceania a guaranteed berth in the tournament. In the past, the winner of Oceania qualifying always has had to meet a team from another continent in a playoff, and no team from Oceania has played in the World Cup since Australia in 1974. FIFA did not decide how the playoff for the final berth would be set up. "There are a number of options available to us," said FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Blatter said the decision to take away Oceania's guaranteed berth was made partly "because of the poor performance of the New Zealand team in the Confederations Cup." New Zealand, the current Oceania champion, went 0-0-3 and was outscored 11-1. "If FIFA had taken the decision for the distribution for slots for the 2006 World Cup today, Oceania would not have received a full slot," Blatter said. Oceania's executive committee member walked out of the meeting, according to Blatter. "We'll do the utmost to win them back inside FIFA's family," Blatter said. "I am an experienced man in this area. In 1999, after all, a full confederation left my first congress as FIFA president, Asia, and Asia came back," said Blatter, who abstained in the vote. After the walkout at the FIFA congress in Los Angeles, FIFA gave Asia the chance to participate in a playoff for a fifth berth at the 2002 World Cup. Iran, the No. 5 team in Asian qualifying, lost to Ireland in a playoff. Under South America's most-discussed plan, the nine group winners and top five second-place teams would have advanced to the second round, with the other four second-place teams going to a playoff. The first round of the World Cup had eight groups of four teams in 1998 and 2002, with the top two teams in each group advancing. "Things are so clear and simple with 32 teams," Blatter said. "Give two more here, two more there, sounds easy." He said a 36-nation field was impractical "when you have to consider the details, the practical organization." Under the allotment approved by the executive committee December 17, Europe was awarded 14 spots, including host Germany, a drop from 15 at the 2002 tournament. Africa remained at five teams, and Asia stayed at four teams with the chance to get another berth in a playoff. North and Central America and the Caribbean, which had three spots, was given the chance for a fourth through a playoff with the No. 5 Asian team.(AP)