HONG KONG, June 27 (Reuters) – Philippe Troussier, the well-travelled French coach who has been in charge of eight mostly minor national teams over his long career, has thrown his weight behind the expansion of the World Cup finals to 48 sides from 2026.

The 68-year-old Parisian, who earned the nickname the ‘White Witch Doctor’ while working with teams in Africa before leading Japan at the 2002 World Cup finals, believes the move will bring positive benefits far beyond the confines of the game.

“It will create a big impact, not only for the countries that are able to go to the World Cup, but it will develop the country,” Troussier, who was recently appointed as Vietnam coach, told Reuters.

“When you know your country has no hope, even less than 1% to go to the World Cup, why develop the pitches? Why pay a foreign coach? Why start a technical programme for the youth?

“You have no dream. And we have to dream. We have to hope.”

Plenty of traditionalists are unhappy at the increase in the size of the tournament from the 32 teams that have contested every World Cup since 1998, arguing the quality of the competition will be diluted as a result.

For the likes of Troussier, who has coached mainly in Africa and Asia over the last 35 years, the prospect of more nations from outside Europe and South America qualifying for the finals is a major positive.

“With 48 teams, eight in Asia and especially in Southeast Asia, then teams can dream,” he said.

“Personally I support this project.”

Despite the huge popularity of football in the region, no Southeast Asian nation has qualified for the World Cup since Indonesia – then the Dutch East Indies – made an appearance at the finals in 1938.

Troussier has been tasked with changing that as he looks to build on the work done by Korean Park Hang-seo, who took Vietnam through to the final phase of Asian qualifying for the first time in 2021.

“That’s why the Vietnam Football Federation have created a special budget and frankly I have all the facilities to complete my job and they believe in me,” he said.

“They provide to the national team all my requests. I really have enjoyed my moment here and I feel like I did when I was in Japan.”

POWERFUL NATIONS

Troussier believes the enlarged format, which begins with the 2026 World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, could also work to the advantage of traditionally powerful nations, many of whom have stumbled during the group phase at the tournament.

“I understand when people ask why you would want the World Cup to go to 48 teams,” he said

“But in this case we have to consider the real World Cup will not start at the first stage, because how many big teams will go out like they did in the old format?”

Troussier points out that defending champions France were eliminated in the group phase in 2002 while Spain and Germany were knocked out early in 2014 and 2018 respectively having won the trophy four years earlier.

“At the beginning of the process the high-level teams need time,” he added.

“In this format they can make it a warm-up and that’s why we can consider the real World Cup will start after two weeks.

“Every four years it is a big festival and if you’re a small country you can work a lot and have a lot of hope. For me this process is important to develop youth, to develop football infrastructure, coaches. I think it is important.”

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