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Sepp Blatter opposed to 36-team plan

Berlin: Fifa president Sepp Blatter has revealed that he opposes a pending decision by the organisation’s executive committee to boost the number of countries participating at the 2006 World Cup finals to 36 from 32.

Fifa said last Saturday in Geneva that it would delay ratifying a decision on a potential increase for the tournament in Germany until next month — but has agreed to the expansion in principle. Blatter, however, made his opposition plain in an interview with Kicker magazine on Thursday.

“I am against 36 teams. The technical commission and the football commission (of Fifa) are opting for 32 teams — but the decision will fall to the executive committee,” Blatter said.

“Up to now people have been talking about more places, but not about the consequences for television, marketing, the length of the tournament and the transparency of the calendar. All the contracts have been drawn up for a 32-team World Cup.

“With this initiative, the executive committee has therefore clearly made a mistake,” said Blatter, who is fully aware that Franz Beckenbauer, the president of the German World Cup organising committee, is fiercely against a bigger tournament.

“On this point I can understand the annoyance of Beckenbauer”, he admitted. “Thirty six teams cannot be the model for the future — the current format of 32 is the best.”

The executive committee, meeting last Saturday in Geneva, put off ratifying their decision until a further meeting on June 28 and 29 in Paris and warned it would only ratify the move “on condition that a match schedule be drawn up that ensured the sporting credibility of the event.”

Beckenbauer last weekend blasted the idea.

“They want an increase only if it’s feasible in relation to the calendar, but there’s no such possibility. This is a weak compromise,” said Beckenbauer.

“To go from 36 teams to 16 for the quarter finals is impossible, it won’t work,” added the dual World Cup winner.

Blatter stressed he had not fallen out with Beckenbauer.

“There is no conflict with Mr Beckenbauer. I just countered his allegation that our finances are not in order and his criticism that we are money-grabbing,” said the Swiss. Regarding Beckenbauer’s threats that he might resign from the organising committee if there are 36 teams or further disagreements, Blatter said he believed the pair could iron out their differences.

“He won’t step down. It would be a great shame if he did.”

South American body Conmebol’s idea is to split 36 teams into nine groups of four, with the leaders in each group winning through to the quarter finals joined by the seven best runners-up — thus avoiding losing at least half a South American place compared with 2002.The four extra places would be filled by two teams from euRope and one from South America.

For the fourth slot, the existing play-off between Asia and North American federation Concacaf will be scrapped with both bodies gaining an extra place.

Final on artificial turf

The final of August’s world under-17 championship will be played on artificial turf, Fifa said Thursday.

The match is one of several in the tournament to be played in Helsinki’s Toolo Stadium and it will be the first time that the final of any Fifa competition is played on an artificial surface.

The sport’s world governing body is keen to encourage the use of such surfaces, particularly in regions where weather conditions make the maintenance of traditional grass pitches difficult. Some Caribbean qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup were played on artificial surfaces.

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