UEFA sets 2018 World Cup qualifying format, eyes 14th entry
VIENNA (AP) Europe's World Cup qualifying process is being based on 13 available places for the 2018 tournament, even though UEFA thinks it deserves a 14th.
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said Monday that Europe will retain the same format of nine qualifying groups. The nine group winners will advance to play in Russia, and the eight best runners-up will enter a playoff round.
With Russia automatically qualified as host, Europe is already set to have 14 teams in the 32-nation lineup.
Still, FIFA has invited its six confederations to pitch for more guaranteed qualifying slots at a May 30 session of its executive committee. Infantino said it would be ''objective and fair'' for UEFA to seek an extra slot after European teams won the past three World Cups.
In recent years, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has encouraged other continents to seek more World Cup places, likely at Europe's expense.
''To crown the best team you must have the best teams,'' Infantino said after a UEFA executive committee meeting.
FIFA will draw the World Cup qualifying groups on July 25 in St. Petersburg.
Europe's 52 eligible teams, which do not include UEFA member Gibraltar, will be drawn into seven six-team groups, and two groups of five.
Gibraltar could be added to the draw if its football federation wins an appeal in May at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It is challenging FIFA's refusal to accept the British territory as a member.
Big increases in revenue for UEFA's club competitions over the next three seasons were confirmed at the executive meeting.
UEFA will share 2.24 billion euros ($2.45 billion) each year in prize money and solidarity payments to clubs across Europe, after broadcasting and sponsorship deals for the Champions League and Europa League rose more than 30 percent.
Infantino said Champions League clubs would share 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) each season. Currently, the 32 group-stage teams get 900 million euros ($984 million).
The Europa League almost doubles its prize fund to 380 million euros ($415 million) per season.
UEFA will give a detailed breakdown at a European Club Association meeting next week in Stockholm, Sweden.
A potential Ukraine vs Russia final in the Europa League this season would go ahead as planned if the teams advance, Infantino said.
Though UEFA blocks teams from the two countries being drawn against each other, Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Russia's Zenit St. Petersburg are in the quarterfinals lineup next month. The final is May 27 in Warsaw, Poland.
''If they reach the final, they play the final,'' the UEFA official said. ''We hope that teams from Russia and Ukraine can soon play in normal conditions.''