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FIFA inviting some non-champions to enlarged Club World Cup

Based on qualification procedures seen by The Associated Press, teams can qualify for FIFA's expanded Club World Cup without having to win a regional competition — even at the expense of some champions.

The FIFA Council on Thursday approved China as host of the inaugural edition of the 24-team club competition in 2021 and reviewed the qualification procedures, people with knowledge of the decision making told AP.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino confirmed China as the host Thursday after the FIFA Council met but gave few other details of the competition. He said the decision was unanimous and that the tournament would be held in June and July of 2021.

Infantino said FIFA will make "zero" out of the new event because FIFA will reinvest 100% of the profits from the tournament back into club football. He also said FIFA would invest $1 billion in women's football over the next four years.

"The Women's World Cup that just happened in France has moved (the sport) to the next level," he said. "We need to work on that, build on that." Infantino, who said a decision on the hosting rights for the 2030 men's World Cup would be taken in 2024, also addressed a question about China's human rights record.

"I think that we need to reflect on our role," Infantinl said. "Countries all over the world are going through difficult times. it is not the mission of FIFA to solve the problems of the world. The mission is to organize football in all of the countries .. we do that by bringing football to the people, not by criticizing."

A document sent to council members seen by the AP shows the outcome of the initial talks between the FIFA administration and the six regional confederations to determine the criteria for securing one of the slots.

The revamped Club World Cup is due to be staged every four years, replacing the current annual format that features the six champions of continental competitions and the host nation's domestic title winner.

But caps on the number of representatives from a single country in the new format raises the prospect of even winners of continental competitions missing out. EUROPE With eight slots, Europe will be the best represented continent at the Club World Cup even after rejecting four additional places, helping FIFA drive ticket sales and broadcast revenue.

All the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are set to qualify — although that could be dependent on UEFA determining the maximum number of slots per country. Clubs from England and Spain have dominated those competitions in recent years.

Should a team enjoy multiple wins across the competitions, the free slot is due to go to the most recent Champions League runner-up. Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018 when Atletico Madrid triumphed in the Europa League. English clubs swept last season's trophies, with Liverpool victorious in the Champions League and Chelsea in the second-tier competition.

SOUTH AMERICA While South America will get six slots, only the process for distributing four of them has been settled. They will go to the 2019 and 2020 winners of CONEMBOL's two competitions: The Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.

The document shows no plan for determining the route to securing the remaining two berths or the limits on national representation. ASIA The three Asian places will to go the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League and the runners-up will have a playoff for the third entry into the Club World Cup group stage.

Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal will play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in this season's final next month. If the title is defended in 2020, the runners-up from both years will complete Asia's FIFA lineup. But Asia only wants a maximum of two teams from one country. So, if the winners and runners-up in 2019 and 2020 are all from the same country, the two losing Asian Champions League semifinalists in 2020 would contest a playoff for a route into the global tournament.

NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League finalists will qualify but a process for deciding the third slot was left hanging in the FIFA Council document. Mexican teams have won all 11 titles since the regional competition was rebooted as the Champions League. Only three of the finals have not been an all-Mexican lineup.

But a cap of two teams per country from this region will exist at the Club World Cup. AFRICA The simplest qualification will be from Africa, with the places going to the 2021 Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semifinalists.

The plan is complicated by a cap on two teams per country. OCEANIA Oceania is the only one of FIFA's six confederations not guaranteed a place at the Club World Cup. To make one of the eight groups of three, the Oceania Champions League winner will face a playoff against the Chinese champions.

TOURNAMENTS DATES A previous FIFA plan seen by the AP in March proposed the Club World Cup running from June 17 through July 4 in 2021, taking the slot originally set aside for the Confederations Cup competition that is no longer due to be contested.

For some players from Africa and the CONCACAF region it could be a busy summer, with their regional national competitions proposed to start on July 9. The final two editions of the seven-team annual Club World Cup are being staged in Qatar this December and in December 2020.

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