Ong Kim Swee
File photo of Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee (R) Reuters

Malaysia national senior men's football coach Ong Kim Swee hailed Fifa's plans to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 teams and called for the country to devise plans to benefit from the move.

Fifa Council voted unanimously for the expansion of the quadrennial tournament at a meeting in Zurich on 10 January. This is also the first time since 1998, World Cup format has been modified as the global showpiece event had 24 teams until then.

The new format, with 16 teams in three groups, will be part of the global tournament as of 2026. Despite the increase in the number of teams, the World Cup will be played only over 32 days and will feature 80 matches, 16 more than the current count. The expanded tournament is expected to bring in more money from sponsorship and broadcast deals along with ticket sales.

Fifa boss Gianni Infantino had revealed that the plan to expand the World Cup was to make it more "inclusive" and quite a few developing football nations have given their green signal for the new format. Kim Swee said he sees it as a move to break the "monopoly" of European giants in the sport's biggest event.

Notably, 161st-ranked Tigers were knocked out of the group stages of 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup but the coach believes they can make a better impact if a proper foundation is laid. The 46-year-old Malaysian tactician added that the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and the education ministry in the country should start working together to identify talents from school level itself to pave the way for a bright footballing future.

"The expansion of the World Cup to include 48 teams from the current 32 beginning from the 2026 edition is a positive move, as maybe now developing football nations, such as those in Asia, can break down the monopoly of European sides in the tournament. However what is more important is for these countries to plan ahead from now on," Kim Swee said, as quoted by Goal.com.

"We in South East Asia such as Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, if we intend to take advantage of the expansion and qualify for the 48-team World Cup, we must plan what we want to do from now on.

"For Malaysia, all parties such as the Malaysian FA (FAM) and the education ministry must prepare from now, as the players who will make up the national team at that time are currently still in school. And even if we do not make it to the 2026 edition, we must have a Plan B, and that is to prepare for the following edition, in 2030."