FIFA president Gianni Infantino said  his comments suggesting biennial World Cups could convince African people not to risk "death" by crossing the Mediterranean Sea were "taken out of context".

Infantino was addressing the European Council on Wednesday, speaking about a range of topics including football agents, Qatar 2022 and FIFA's proposals for World Cup finals every two years.

He concluded his speech by talking about the latter, outlining how FIFA's reasoning behind the controversial idea – which is being pushed by Arsene Wenger – comes down to a desire to let more people around the world enjoy the best players for "the future of football".

Infantino said: "We see that football is going to a direction where the few have everything and the vast majority have nothing. I understand.

"In Europe, the World Cup happens twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe. In Europe there's no need for additional events, but if we think about the rest of the world, and even in Europe, the vast majority of Europe that doesn't see the best players, that doesn't participate in the top competitions."

But, as he went on to explain ethical dilemmas currently troubling the sport, Infantino's address took a curious turn, suggesting the proposed World Cup changes – and greater inclusion in global football – could make refugees think twice about fleeing Africa for Europe.

He added: "We have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport, because football is about what I was saying at the beginning – it's about opportunities, about hope, about national teams, the country, heart, the joy and emotion. You cannot say to the rest of the world, 'give us your money and if you happen to have a good player, give us the player as well, but you just watch on TV'. We need to include them. We need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so they don't have to cross the Mediterranean in order to, maybe, find a better life but more probably death in the sea.

"We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world to participate. Maybe a World Cup every two years isn't the answer, [but] we discuss it, debate it."

Several hours later, the Swiss – via a statement released on FIFA's Twitter account – took the opportunity to clarify his comments.

The statement read: "Given that certain remarks made by me before the Council of Europe earlier today appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, I wish to clarify that, in my speech, my more general message was that everyone in a decision-making position has a responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world.

"If there are more opportunities available, including in Africa, but certainly not limited to that continent, this should allow people to take these opportunities in their own countries.

"This was a general comment, which was not directly related to the possibility of playing a FIFA World Cup every two years."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has curiously suggested biennial World Cups could convince African people to not cross the Mediterranean Sea "in order to maybe find a better life but, more probably, death".

World football's governing body, led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, has been promoting proposals for the World Cup to change its current quadrennial format.

FIFA reported to its member associations at their global summit in December that the changes would make the sport $4.4billion richer over the first four-year cycle.

According to Infantino, that figure would then climb to $6.6billion if each confederation also switched its flagship regional competition to become biennial, while FIFA claimed its members were largely in support of the plans.

UEFA has continuously opposed the proposals, while some domestic competitions – such as the Premier League – have also urged FIFA to keep things as they are.

But FIFA has been pressing ahead with feasibility studies and opinion polls, with its plan seeming to revolve around greater global participation.

However, in an address to the European Council on Wednesday, Infantino's attempts to further sell the idea took a puzzling turn, as he appeared to claim biennial World Cups could prevent refugees from fleeing to Europe from Africa.

He said: "The final topic I'd like to mention briefly is the future of football… Let me say on this topic, we'd have preferred to be engaged in a debate with the European Council, and I take this first step in discussing the future as well of course with the Council, because this topic is not [just] about whether we want a World Cup every two years.

"It's about what do we want to do for the future of football. The [European] Super League was mentioned earlier... We see that football is going to a direction where the few have everything and the vast majority have nothing.

"I understand. In Europe, the World Cup happens twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe. In Europe there's no need for additional events, but if we think about the rest of the world, and even in Europe, the vast majority of Europe that doesn't see the best players, that doesn't participate in the top competitions.

"Then we have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport, because football is about what I was saying at the beginning – it's about opportunities, about hope, about national teams, the country, heart, the joy and emotion.

"You cannot say to the rest of the world, 'give us your money and if you happen to have a good player, give us the player as well, but you just watch on TV'.

"We need to include them. We need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so they don't have to cross the Mediterranean in order to, maybe, find a better life but more probably death in the sea.

"We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world to participate. Maybe a World Cup every two years isn't the answer, [but] we discuss it, debate it.

"We started the process with a vote of 88 per cent of the FIFA congress, including 30 European members out of 55, to debate and see what the best way is to be more inclusive, not just to speak about saying no to discrimination, but to actually act in that direction by bringing everyone on board, trying to give opportunities and dignity to the entire world."

Reggae Boyz head coach Paul Hall has named an experienced squad for his squad for the next three FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica, respectively.

Hall, who replaced Theodore Whitmore on an interim basis, after the latter was relieved of his duties late last year, did not see it fit to select any outfield players currently participating in the Jamaica Premier League. Leon Bailey misses out once again as he is not fully recovered from a thigh injury that has seen him miss 11 of Aston Villa's Premier League matches this season. Shamar Nicholson declined his invitation claiming he wants to spend the time settling into his new club Spartak Moscow.

However, Hall is not short of striking options as he has called up West Ham’s Michail Antonio, Queens Park Rangers’ Andre Gray, Philadelphia Union’s Cory Burke, FC Toulouse’s Junior Flemmings, Fulham’s Bobby Reid, and Santos de Guapiles’ Javon East.

In midfield, Miami FC’s Devon Williams and Lamar Walker, Blackpool FC’s Kevin Stewart, Derby County’s Ravel Morrison, Hartford Athletic’s Peter-Lee Vassell and Preston North End’s Daniel Johnson got the nod for the crucial matches.

In defence, Hall will choose from the likes of Reading FC’s Liam Moore, Macarthur FC’s Adian Mariappa, recent Inter Miami signee Damion Lowe, Toronto FC’s Kemar Lawrence, Morecambe FC’s Gregory Leigh, Vancouver Whitecap’s Javain Brown and FC Cincinnati’s Alvas Powell.

Andre Blake of Philadelphia Union, Dwayne Miller of Eskilstuna City and Amal Knight of Harbour View FC make up the goalkeeper pool.

Jamaica will open the coming window against Mexico at the National Stadium in Kingston on January 27 before travelling to Panama for their next match on January 30. The penultimate round of qualifiers concludes with Jamaica hosting Costa Rica at the National Stadium on February 2.

Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will do battle for a place at the 2022 Qatar World Cup after their nations were drawn together in African qualifying.

Salah and Mane, who are both currently at the Africa Cup of Nations, have been an integral part of Liverpool's success over the past few years, and are considered to be two of the world's best forwards.

However, just one of them will be at the World Cup later this year after Salah's Egypt were paired with Mane's Senegal in the African qualifying play-off round.

The remaining 10 teams in African qualifying will face off in two-legged play-offs for the continent's five spots at the tournament.

Algeria will play Cameroon, Nigeria were paired with Ghana, while Morocco have been drawn against DR Congo.

The final tie will see Tunisia face Mali, with all fixtures taking place in March.

Former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter says incumbent Gianni Infantino "is not a good president" and has criticised his successor for his decision to live in Qatar ahead of the 2202 World Cup.

Football's world governing body confirmed on Thursday that Infantino has moved from Zurich to Doha on a temporary basis to oversee the build-up to the World Cup in December.

Blatter called that decision "incomprehensible" and "outrageous" on French radio on Thursday.

"He is not a good president, and I must say it. He is not doing his job properly," Zurich told Europe 1 Sport.

"I would never have thought of going to live in the capital where we play the World Cup.

"The place of the president of FIFA is the place where FIFA has its headquarters, in Zurich."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has suggested the European Championship would follow suit and become a biennial event should the proposed World Cup plans succeed.

Led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, FIFA has been promoting the idea for the World Cup to shift format and take place every two years - an idea strongly opposed by both UEFA and CONMEBOL.

FIFA claimed to its member associations at their global summit in December that the alterations would make football $4.4billion richer over the initial four-year cycle.

Infantino, faced with strong opposition in Europe and South America, has now added further fuel to the fire by suggesting the Euros would happen more often if the biennial World Cup plans come to fruition.

Asked by Italian outlet Radio Anch'io what would happen to European football's premier international tournament in the wake of the World Cup proposals, Infantino responded: "The Euros would also take place every two years.

"In Europe, there is resistance because there is a World Cup every week with the leagues and the best players in the world, but that isn't the case for the rest of the world: It's a month a year, and we need to find a way to truly include the whole world in football."

Last month, UEFA published a contrasting independent survey that called the suggested changes "alarming" just hours before FIFA released a study that reported there is a "majority" in favour of a World Cup every two years.

Infantino again claimed that FIFA's prior findings suggested the change would be both feasible and accepted.

He added: "The presumptions are clear: 88 per cent of countries, including the majority of those in Europe, have asked for the study and the study tells us that from a sporting point of view, a World Cup every two years would work. 

"There would be fewer international matches but with a greater impact."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also part of a growing list of opposition, which includes Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski, fearing the impact of the changes on the world's sporting calendar.

Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski have expressed concerns about the lack of rest players will get if plans for a biennial World Cup come to fruition.

FIFA's proposal to host the tournament every two years instead of four has largely been met with scepticism.

Both Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski are not in favour of the change, with the former suggesting that the quality of the spectacle would suffer if the health of players is not taken into account. 

"We like to play but it's too much," Mbappe said in Dubai, where he was named men's player of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards. "If people want to see quality, we have to take a break.

"Playing the World Cup every two years would make this competition 'normal' and that shouldn't be the case. The World Cup, the Nations League... we love to play but it's too much.

"If people want to see quality, I think we have to take a break."

Lewandowski echoed the France international's sentiments, stating that the schedule is already congested even without the added burden of an increased number of World Cups.

"We have a lot of games in the year, very dense weeks," Lewandowski said at the same event. "If you want to give the fans something different, you need a break.

"We have to look into the future, if we want to play a World Cup every two years, the level will drop. It's impossible for the body and the mind to perform at the same level."

FIFA has published results from a study that claims "the majority" of football fans would like to see more frequent World Cups just hours after UEFA said an independent survey called proposals "alarming".

Earlier on Friday, UEFA warned of "a deeply negative outlook" for international football in Europe if FIFA gets the green light to stage the World Cup every two years.

The messages from the two governing bodies came ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations on Monday.

FIFA will lay out its plans to stage World Cups, both men's and women's, every two years in the future, in what could lead to the biggest shake-up in the game for many years.

The "independent" study that was commissioned by UEFA, which has been vehemently against the idea of biennial World Cups ever since proposals gained mainstream traction, said European national associations could see a drop in revenues of up to €3billion over four years and that 30 per cent of fans would watch less domestic and European Championship football.

Additionally, it suggested 60 per cent of fans believe the World Cup's prestige would fall and 65 per cent think it would lead to a bloated international football calendar.

But FIFA's own study says fans are in favour of watching "the FIFA World Cup more frequently, for example every two years, provided that player workload does not increase".

According to FIFA, of the 30,390 people involved in the study who said football was their favourite sport, 63.7 per cent were in favour of more men's World Cups, with the 25-34 age category apparently the "most supportive", and 52.4 per cent want to see the women's tournament more often.

The results were split between continents and suggest there is more backing among the lesser-established international teams.

It is claimed Africa (76 per cent), Asia (66), North, Central America and the Caribbean (53), South America (54) and Oceania (55) all have majorities in favour of more men's World Cups, however less than half (48 per cent) of Europeans are.

Opposition is said to be especially strong in some of the leading European nations, with England's disapproval percentage at 53, Germany's at 50 and France's at 42. Those three were also considered the most disapproving of more women's World Cups.

UEFA has warned of "a deeply negative outlook" for international football in Europe if FIFA gets the green light to stage the World Cup every two years.

The message from Europe's governing body comes ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations on Monday.

FIFA will lay out its plans to stage World Cups, both men's and women's, every two years in the future, in what could lead to the biggest shake-up in the game for many years.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino recently suggested football's elite who opposed a revamping of the game were "afraid" of what change would mean for them, given their positions of power.

A study commissioned by UEFA points to a steep slide in revenues stemming from its own international competitions. It forecasts European national associations could see a drop by between €2.5billion and €3billion in a four-year cycle, also warning of a major decline in UEFA income for the women's game if more men's tournaments are to be staged.

UEFA, which was already firmly opposed to FIFA's plan, said the findings of the study by consultancy firm Oliver and Ohlbaum were "alarming" and raise "severe concerns".

The study contended that broadcast revenue will fall for each event, with advertising rates "likely to hold up" but viewing set to "likely decline".

It said research showed that around 30 per cent of fans would watch less of the European Championship and domestic football, while 60 per cent think the World Cup's prestige would fall and 65 per cent think a change would lead to a bloated international football calendar.

The study warned of "lower broadcaster and sponsor willingness to pay for further tournaments, even if they deliver eyeballs", and said for the four years from 2026 to 2030, with World Cups happening every two years, the impact "would be strongly negative", even if UEFA's European Championship also shifted to become biennial.

It forecast UEFA revenues would be reduced from €4.6billion to €4.2billion if qualification took place in two blocks of games, and to €4.0billion if all qualifiers took place in a single block, with a knock-on effect on distributions to national associations.

Women's football has been on an upward growth curve in recent years, helped by the exposure its tournaments have had at times when there has been no corresponding men's event.

But the study predicted that viewership "would fall significantly" if men's events take place in the same year as women's showpieces, reducing their prospects of being in the media and public spotlight. It said income from the Women's European Championship would slide from €102m to €44m if that tournament continues to take place once every four years, or to €78m should it also become a biennial competition.

FIFA has found some support for its proposals, which have been pushed by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football at the governing body. Africa has given its backing, while there has also been positive interest from Asia and those from the CONCACAF region. Like UEFA, however, South America's powerful CONMEBOL confederation has come out firmly against FIFA's idea.

UEFA warned again on Friday of the prospect of "increasing mental and physical exhaustion of players", and of intruding on spaces in the calendar currently occupied by other sports.

"In this dark sporting context, the research conducted by Oliver and Ohlbaum projects a deeply negative outlook for European national team football, should the FIFA plan be implemented," UEFA said in a statement.

Uruguay appointed former Inter Miami boss Diego Alonso as head coach of the CONMEBOL nation, it was announced on Tuesday.

Former Uruguay international Alonso replaces Oscar Tabarez after the legendary coach was sacked last month following a 15-year tenure.

Uruguay parted with Tabarez amid the country's woes after four consecutive defeats in 2022 World Cup qualifying left them seventh in the 10-team standings, but just one point adrift of fourth-placed Colombia and the final automatic qualification berth.

The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) made no further comment upon confirming Alonso as the new coach.

River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo was reportedly the AUF's number one target before the Argentine coach re-signed with the champions.

Uruguay then turned to Alonso, who was available after his departure from David Beckham's MLS outfit Inter Miami in January.

Alonso – an eight-time international – has also coached Monterrey, Pachuca, Olimpia, Penarol, Guarani and Bella Vista.

The 46-year-old guided both Monterrey and Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League glory in 2019 and 2017 respectively.

Alonso's first match in charge of Uruguay will be against ninth-placed Paraguay on January 27.

Mario Balotelli believes he can earn a dramatic Italy recall in time for the World Cup play-offs, according to his club boss Vincenzo Montella.

The former Inter, Manchester City and Liverpool striker scored 14 goals in 36 games for the Azzurri before his international career ground to a halt in 2018.

Despite his long-time ally Roberto Mancini being head coach of the Azzurri, there has been little hint of a return to Italy duty since Mancini gave him three caps early in his reign.

Those three appearances were Balotelli's first for Italy since the 2014 World Cup, and he has not been called into a squad since September 2018, with his club career taking him in the meantime from Nice onwards to Marseille, Brescia, Monza and currently Adana Demirspor in Turkey.

Balotelli has scored five Super Lig goals this season for a team who sit eighth in the table after 16 games.

Former Roma frontman Montella, who also played for Italy, has floated the idea that there could yet be another chapter in the story of Balotelli's Azzurri career.

"Balotelli has extraordinary technical qualities. He is a good guy who sometimes goes off a little. But I found him very motivated, and I believe that in his career he has never been as concentrated as this year with us," Montella told Italia 1's Tiki Taka programme.

"He is growing a lot, it is a pleasure to coach him. He has the obsession to return to the national team. He is motivated, he believes in it, he knows he has to work hard, but he knows he has three months to convince Mancini that he knows everything about him, his strengths and weaknesses."

 

Italy won Euro 2020 just five months ago but face a battle to get to the World Cup, knowing they must beat North Macedonia on March 24 to set up a decider against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal or Turkey.

This is because, despite remaining unbeaten in qualifying so far, they finished only second to Switzerland in the group stage. Italy missed out on the 2018 World Cup, so to do so for a second successive time would be a major blow.

Montella said: "Mancini has done an extraordinary job since the beginning of his Azzurri adventure and winning the European Championship was a great thing. Getting to the World Cup will be difficult but Italy, in difficulties, always manage to bring out the best of its potential. I wish and hope that we will be able to qualify."

Brazil legend Pele has been admitted to hospital to undergo treatment for a colon tumour, but is in a stable condition.

The three-time World Cup winner required an operation to remove a colon tumour in September and has since continued undergoing chemotherapy as part of the rehabilitation process.

Sao Paulo's Hospital Albert Einstein confirmed on Wednesday that Pele had been hospitalised again, adding he is in stable condition and should be discharged in the next few days.

"The patient is stable, and the forecast is that he will be released in the coming days," the statement said.

The legendary striker has suffered from ill health in recent years, having prostate surgery in 2015 after being admitted to hospital twice in six months, and he was hospitalised again for a urinary infection in 2019.

Pele is the only player to hold three World Cup winner's medals, lifting the trophy in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

The 81-year-old is also one of just four players to score in four different World Cups, while he remains Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer - having found the back of the net 77 times in 92 appearances for the Selecao.

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

African nations threw their support behind FIFA's proposal for a biennial World Cup as Gianni Infantino claimed elite-level opponents of the plan are objecting out of fear.

FIFA president Infantino made a personal appearance at African federation CAF's extraordinary general assembly in Cairo on Friday, along with Arsene Wenger.

Former Arsenal boss Wenger is the head of global development at FIFA, with the world governing body employing the Frenchman as a figurehead for the World Cup overhaul.

It is far from a fait accompli that FIFA will get its way – UEFA and CONMEBOL are firmly against the switch – but CAF members overwhelmingly backed the plan, having been told by Infantino that it provided a route towards more opportunities on the world stage.

"Obviously as well, it's natural and understandable, those who are against it are those at the top," Infantino told CAF members.

"It happens in every sector of life when there are reforms and changes; those who are at the top, they don't want anything to change because they are at the top, and they are afraid maybe that if something changes, their leadership position is at risk.

"We understand that, and we compliment and applaud them for having been so successful in reaching the top. This is fantastic, and they are an example for everyone.

"But at the same time, we cannot close the door, we need to keep the door open, we need to give hope, and we need to give opportunities to the entire world.

"We need to give more opportunities to all the teams to play with each other - will it be with the World Cup or will it be in another way? We have to study of course all of this.

"We continue to consult, we continue to speak, we thank you for your views and your input."

Infantino has been telling African nations of the prospect for development long before FIFA put forward its World Cup proposal, and it is clear he has strong support on the continent.

Wenger gave a presentation in which he expressed his belief that biennial World Cups for men's and women's football and also spoke of the prospect of more chances to compete for African nations.

"I only defend the project because it is to make football better and more competitive," Wenger said.

A resolution was announced during the general assembly, in which it was stated: "CAF welcomes the FIFA congress decision to conduct the feasibility study on having men's and women's World Cup every two years.

"If the FIFA study concludes that it is feasible, CAF will fully support hosting the men's and women's World Cup every two years."

CAF president Patrice Motsepe conducted a show of hands and, with no objections to the resolution, declared it a unanimous vote in favour of backing FIFA.

Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.