It has been a successful month of celebration of football with the Russia World Cup reaching new heights as the country – contrary to the popular Western perception – has been most welcoming to all, creating an atmosphere of festivity, which has been backed by some great on-field action.
The FIFA President, Gianni Infantino – sporting the red volunteer jacket that has been a common sight throughout the tournament – looked visibly pleased while reiterating his call of announcing Russia 2018 as the “best World Cup ever”.
“I had for long said that this would be the best World Cup and now after living this celebration for a month, I can say with more conviction that this is the best World Cup. We should thank Russia: the Russian Government, President (Vladimir) Putin, the LOC, the Russian Football Union. And of course the volunteers, who are the smile and the heart of this World Cup,” he said. “This World Cup has changed Russia and football is now part of the country’s DNA. It has also changed the perception of the world about Russia. Around a million people have come to Russia and everyone has discovered a wonderful and welcoming country.”
The Swiss-Italian sports administrator while sidestepping the issue of the host country’s perceived problematic human rights and other diplomatic issues, acknowledged the role football can play to start dialogues between decision-makers in the world. “There are many injustices in the world, many things that are not working as the citizens of the world would like. There are many things that we will like to change and many things that we are not happy about, but this is not in one country, one region but the entire world. We try to speak, work and make things better wherever we can,” he said, playing his part as a global diplomat.
“At the World Cup, we are focusing on celebrating football. We are missing the capacity to have a dialogue in today’s World and that’s the basis to solve these issues. If football and the World Cup can open some channels and discussions between the important decision-makers then we have done something right. Football cannot change all problems; the past but it can impact the future.”
Not a balanced affair
The tournament, a resounding off-field success, has also witnessed a European domination with two traditional South American powerhouses knocked out in the last-16 and the quarterfinal, while Japan was the only Asian country to make it to the knockouts and Infantino agreed that more work needs to be done. “I don’t know if the tournament was ever very balanced. We had winners from Europe and South America. But now, we have a final where one team has never won the World Cup and Croatia is not a powerhouse of world or European football. It comes down to the quality of football, the professional attitude,” the FIFA President said.
“This World Cup shows a domination of European teams, but it has seen some good skills and it has been very good throughout. Belgium came through after beating Japan with a goal in the 94th minute. Performances like this should be a catalyst for other regions to try harder to do better, FIFA has the means to help them and we will have other surprises in the future. More teams from Africa and Asia will increase their chances to be a world champion. But the participation numbers is determined by history. We want more African and Asian teams so we are increasing the number of overall teams.”
The President, however, refused to confirm whether Qatar 2022 would be a 48-team affair. “We will discuss 48 or 32 teams for the next World Cup over the nest few months, firstly with Qatar and then with the FIFA council. No decision has been taken as of now and we still have a World Cup with 32 teams,” he said.
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