FIFA explores merging youth World Cups for 48-team event
By ROB HARRIS
Feb. 22, 2018
England might be the first and last team to be holders of the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups.
FIFA is looking to merge the youth tournaments won last year by English boys to create a 48-team competition, emulating the expansion of the main World Cup. Officials are exploring the merits of an age cut-off at 18 or 19.
The women's youth tournaments could also be combined to create a single 24-team event under plans that were considered in a meeting of the governing body's competitions committee two weeks ago.
The proposals were discussed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino with some member associations during summits in Mauritania and Nigeria this week.
FIFA told The Associated Press the proposals form part of an ongoing review of competitions two years into Infantino's presidency that has already seen the main World Cup expanded from 32 to 48 teams from 2026.
If eventually approved, there would be a far bigger jump in size for the U17 and U20 World Cups, with each biennial event for boys currently featuring 24 teams.
A single, potentially annual, 48-team youth competition would not pose the same logistical challenges faced by the expanded senior World Cup as doubleheaders in stadiums would mean fewer venues are required.
FIFA is trying to streamline the international youth soccer calendar that also saw England teams compete at three European youth championships last year in U21, U19 and U17 categories.
England won the European U19 title between triumphs at the U20 World Cup in South Korea in June and the U17 World Cup in India in October.
The U20 competition was known as the FIFA World Youth Championship until 2005 when Lionel Messi helped Argentina win the 15th edition.
FIFA has more flexibility around immediate changes to its youth tournaments for boys as hosts for the 2019 events are yet to be selected.
But the women's U17 and U20 World Cups will be staged this year in Uruguay and France respectively. North Korea will be defending both titles won in 2016.