Football: Seedings grow from England and Scotland successes

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The Independent Online
The complicated qualification formula for next year's World Cup finals aroused much controversy, but Uefa has decided to repeat the procedure for the qualifying competition for the European Championship in 2000.

This means that there will again be plenty of games involving minnows - but at least England and Scotland are likely to be seeded. Glenn Moore, Football Correspondent, reports.

England and Scotland are both set to be seeded when the draw for the qualifying rounds of the 2000 European Championship is made early next year.

England's seeding will be a reward for finishing above Italy in their World Cup qualifying group while Scotland's first-ever seeding follows impressive displays in qualifying for both the World Cup and Euro 96. However, both countries will still have to play minor nations like San Marino and the Faroe Islands after Uefa, European football's governing body, decided against having a pre-qualifying phase for the competition.

Instead the procedure will be identical to the World Cup qualifying with England again likely to be placed in a five-team qualifying group and Scotland in a six. The finals are to be shared by Belgium and the Netherlands.

The seeding formula, which needs to be ratified by Uefa's executive committee in Geneva on 5 and 6 December, is based on results in the qualifying competitions for Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup. England, who can only be assessed on their World Cup record as they did not need to qualify for Euro 96, are fourth and Scotland level sixth with Yugoslavia. The table is led by Spain, Romania and Russia and also includes Germany, Italy and Norway. Missing from the first rank of seeds are France and the Netherlands. The Dutch, however, qualify automatically as do Belgium who will host the qualifying draw on 18 January in Ghent.

In order to reduce fixture congestion there will be four sets of double- header internationals, on Wednesday and the following Saturday, as with Scotland's ill-fated trip to Latvia and Estonia. But Uefa have resisted pressure to filter out the junior nations. Apart from Liechenstein's freak draw with the Republic of Ireland these matches are usually a pointless exercise and Franz Beckenbauer is among those calling for a pre-qualifying tournament.

Uefa's action is partly altruistic and partly political. They are keen to promote football in emerging nations such as Moldova and have given financial aid to such countries. They are also keen to recognise as many nations as possible in order to increase voting strength in the ongoing power struggle with Fifa, the world governing body. Uefa have attempted to placate the bigger countries like England, Germany, Spain and Italy by guaranteeing them a place in a five-team group.

In a rare coup for England, Uefa have agreed to accept English as the "authoritative language" in disputes - however, they will make an exception when they deal with their own recently rewritten rulebook, which is in German. The Uefa statutes now incorporate the Swiss "Court of Arbitration in Sport" in an attempt to head off the growing inclination of clubs and federations to resort to law.

The World Cup seedings remain uncertain. Early reports suggested England would not be one of the eight seeds for next summer as ranking would be decided on recent World Cup finals performances. However, Fifa are anxious to incorporate their own rankings system in some way and are also considering recognising the growing influence of African football by seeding one of their five qualifiers.

Nothing can be decided until after the European play-offs as Italy, if they qualify, are certain to be seeded. The final decision will be confirmed at the World Cup organising committee meeting in Marseilles on 2 December, two days before the draw, but a probable system is likely to be agreed before the last qualifying match in Australia on 29 November. Sir Bert Millichip is England's representative on the relevant committee but other Football Association officials will also be lobbying hard. Though being seeded no longer carries the advantage of being based in one site it does mean avoiding Brazil.

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