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World Cup expansion a boost for fringe nations

Fifa's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams will be a catalyst to football's growth in countries hovering on the fringe of the showpiece tournament, according to Japan Football Association president Kozo Tashima.

Tashima is a member of the Fifa Council, which voted on Tuesday to add 16 more teams to its current 32 from the 2026 edition of the tournament.

Critics fear the expansion will lower the overall standard of the tournament, but Tashima cited the example of Japan, who have taken part in the last five World Cups, and said it would be provide an impetus for the growth of the sport globally.

"Many teams in Asia are also close to being fully prepared to participate," Tashima said yesterday.

"Japan was the same when we first participated in 1998. We had a taste of what football was at the world level and was able to consistently participate in all five World Cups that followed.

"This contributed greatly to the development of Japanese football.

"I believe countries in Asia, Oceania, Europe - for example Iceland - and other small countries deserve the same chance."

Kashima pointed to Iceland's Euro 2016 victory over England to further his point.

"In the past, tournaments were more about Europe versus South America but, now, many other national teams have become stronger," he said.

"We are now in a generation where even Iceland beat England. Our decision was based on the fact that team number expansion would be, without a doubt, a progress for football, globally." - REUTERS

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