Fifa rejects World Cup expansion

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Fifa, the governing body of world football, yesterday ruled out the possibility that the 2002 World Cup finals, which will be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, will be expanded from 32 teams to 40.

As the two nations continue to haggle over how the competition will be shared, Japan reportedly asked to increase the number of teams and make it a 64-game World Cup instead of 52.

"It's not their decision," a Fifa spokesman, Keith Cooper, said. "They should know that they don't have the right to make that kind of decision. It is Fifa who decides how many teams there are in the World Cup. The regulations say it is 32 teams and that's how many will play."

Two years ago, Fifa increased the field from 24 to 32 teams for the 1998 World Cup in France.

Japan and Korea will be the first two countries to co-host a World Cup. They are expected to draw lots to determine which country stages the final.

Amid suggestions that the two countries are refusing to negotiate with each other on how the competition will be split, Cooper said that Japanese football officials were having talks in Zurich with Fifa and Korean organisers would arrive today. Both sides would then get together with Fifa on 6 November.

"There are some issues which are mutual and will be discussed on 6 November," Cooper said. "But some unilateral issues will be presented to Fifa by each side at these meetings today and tomorrow. These meetings were called at the invitation of the two countries, not by Fifa. We won't have anything to say after these meetings but we are here to listen."

Diego Maradona is close to making a decision on whether to finally retire. "Within 10 days I will decide if I continue playing... it will be while I'm in Spain," Maradona said in a late-night interview with the COPE radio station on Tuesday.

Maradona, who admitted that he still has drug problems and has recently been in a drug clinic, is in Spain for treatment and tests by a doctor.

Maradona used the interview to attack the journalist Jimmy Burns, whose unauthorised biography of the Argentinian World Cup player will be published next week.

"The person that wrote the book makes a very ugly story which is not in keeping with reality," Maradona said.

Burns told a news agency yesterday that he had given Maradona a signed copy of The Hand of God in London over the weekend. "This is not a hatchet job. It's a serious biography," Burns said.

Maradona also spoke frankly about his health problems. "A lot of drugs are sold, and I took all of them. I still haven't overcome my drug dependence. I have to fight it every day," Maradona said.

The Argentinian spent 10 days in a Swiss mountain clinic last month when a psychiatrist said his treatment had "ended successfully''.

Celta Vigo will kick off an hour early against Real Betis on Sunday to allow their Israeli international midfielder Haim Revivo start Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Revivo, the first Israeli to play in Spain, consulted with a rabbi before agreeing to play at 6pm which will allow him to get home before sunset and the start of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

``It could be a bit of a rush, as I have to eat before the fasting,'' Revivo said yesterday. "It's the first time I've spent Yom Kippur abroad and it's very important for me to respect what my parents taught me."

Romania slumped 2-1 to the United Arab Emirates in an international friendly in Bucharest yesterday. Abdulrazaq Ibrahim Hussein Al Bolooshi and Zuhair Bokhit Belal Saeed scored for the UAE, Ion Vladoiu for the home side.