FIFA allows bigger 26-man squads for pandemic-era World Cup
England's coach Gareth Southgate, left, shakes hands with England's Bukayo Saka as he is substituted during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between England and Hungary at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, England, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA has approved bigger 26-man squads for the World Cup in Qatar, deciding Thursday to extend soccer’s relaxation of rules that help coaches and players during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move was expected from the FIFA Bureau — comprising the presidents of FIFA and soccer’s six confederations — after 23-player rosters were expanded for recent continental championships.

Adding three players to the typical World Cup roster follows UEFA doing the same for the European Championship last year.

There were 28-player squads also approved for the Copa América tournament in South America last year and at the African Cup of Nations in January.

The extra numbers help the coaches of the 32 teams cope with possible outbreaks of virus cases. It also means additional players are already following health protocols within the camp in Qatar rather than be brought from their home country.

The squad size change will send a total of 96 extra players to the World Cup being played from November 21 to December 18. The 28-day tournament compares to 32 days four years ago in Russia.

Most of the extra players will likely come from European clubs whose domestic seasons must pause by November 13 for the first World Cup held during the northern hemisphere winter.

Squads will be together for just one week before the tournament kicks off instead of the usual preparation time of about two weeks.

FIFA has created a $209 million fund from its World Cup revenues to compensate clubs with a daily rate of about several thousand dollars for releasing players to national-team duty.

World Cup teams can also now use five substitutes in the regulation 90 minutes instead of three.

What started as an interim rule in 2020 to ease player workloads in congested game schedules during the pandemic is now codified in the laws of the game.

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