All Whites' Anthony Hudson backs World Cup expansion, no issue with current qualifying path video

President Gianni Infantino announces Fifa has unanimously decided to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 teams.

Anthony Hudson knows the benefits of World Cup expansion for New Zealand, but the All Whites coach also has no issue with their current qualifying path.

Governing body Fifa gave the green light to expand their global showcase on Tuesday (Tuesday night NZ time), increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 from 2026.

The Fifa Council also decided on a format of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two advancing to a 32-team knockout phase.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson doesn't mind having to face a team from a bigger confederation to book a World Cup berth.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson doesn't mind having to face a team from a bigger confederation to book a World Cup berth.

Under the current qualification system, based on a 32-team tournament, Oceania has only half a spot with the winner facing a playoff against a team from bigger, stronger confederations.

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To reach next year's World Cup in Russia, the Oceania champions must defeat the fifth-placed team from South American qualifying in a home-and-away playoff this November.

It is likely Oceania would receive at least a full spot when the updated allocations for the upsized event were released in May.

While he believed the expansion was "brilliant" for Oceania and New Zealand football, especially given logistical and financial challenges faced by Kiwi players and teams, Hudson was not at all irritated by the confederation not having direct entry.

Andy Martin, chief executive of New Zealand Football, is delighted by the news the World Cup will be expanded to 48 ...
PETER MEECHAM/FAIRFAX NZ

Andy Martin, chief executive of New Zealand Football, is delighted by the news the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams from 2026.

"One thing I know is to get to a World Cup you've got to work for it," the 35-year-old Englishman said.

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"To get to a World Cup takes something special, that's really important. I've got to be honest, I can only deal with what's in our control and in front of us and I have absolutely no complaints about our pathway now.

"We have an incredible challenge to beat the fifth-best South American team over home and away. If we can do it would be an amazing achievement and feeling and what it would do for the country would be incredible."

The expansion and likely direct entry undoubtedly makes it easier for the All Whites to reach the World Cup.

Several results over the past five years, though, suggest New Zealand are not as superior to their Pacific Island rivals as those who believe it would virtually guarantee the Kiwi side a place at the tournament may think.

The latest examples came at last year's Oceania Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea as the All Whites escaped with a 1-0 win against New Caledonia in the semifinals before needing penalties to secure the title against the hosts after a goal-less 120 minutes of play.

Hudson said direct entry far from made New Zealand a certain World Cup participant.

"We are talking about many years ahead and the teams in the islands are really developing.

"Foreign coaches are coming in and, with the money they are putting in, it's not going to be a given New Zealand qualify every time.

"Once we get to [2026] the landscape will be different."

NZ Football boss Andy Martin was similarly positive about the expansion and said his organisation and the Oceania Football Confederation had been lobbying towards direct entry for some time.

Martin said it would give them "a fighting chance" and while it was not confirmed yet, he was highly optimistic it would be.

"We're expecting something better than what we've got today. We can only hope that means direct entry as minimum.

"We are led to believe this will mean at least one place. If that is  the case that is fantastic for the whole of Oceania."

The expanded World Cup could also be a financial coup for New Zealand football.

Fifa projects increased profit from a 48-team tournament, where 16 extra games will attract more money from broadcasting and sponsorship partners, at US$640 million (NZ$915 million).

New Fifa president Gianni Infantino promised increased funding for all 211 of its member associations when he was elected in February last year.

Teams also receive a significant sum in prize money for playing at the World Cup, meaning an easier qualification route could also boost NZF coffers.

Martin said the prize money NZF received when the All Whites played in the 2010 World Cup, believed to be around US$8 million (NZ$11.4 million), had "funded the game subsequently".

 - Stuff

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