Football: England expect to feel squeeze in World Cup seedings

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The Independent Online
The World Cup draw is not until Thursday but the lobbying for position has been going on for weeks. This morning the seeds are revealed and England are not optimistic. Glenn Moore, in Marseilles, examines their prospects of a seeding.

It was not just the movers and shakers of world football that blew into Marseilles yesterday: the Mistral was also whistling into town, which could make the World Cup draw, which is to be held in the open air, more lively than the exhibition match which is to precede it.

The actual process of the draw is yet to be released but, for England, it may be no bad thing if the carefully arranged balls, hats, or pieces of paper are blown all over the Stade Velodrome. They will hear officially today, but the whispers on the wind suggest that England will not, after all, be seeded.

The FA were still lobbying hard behind the scenes last night but, in public, they were facing up to the prospect of not being seeded. "It will be a disappointment if we are not seeded," Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, said, "but whatever will be, will be. Being seeded is not the advantage it used to be when you played three games in one venue.

"There are six or seven teams that can win the World Cup and we are one of them. Eventually we would have to beat the best so, whenever we get them, and wherever we get them, we will be ready for the job.''

If the Fifa rankings are incorporated into the seeding, which is usually decided on the basis of previous World Cup performance, England may well squeeze into the seeds. "We believe the rankings [in which England are sixth] reflect the real progress made in recent years by the England team," Hoddle added. "We have a new respect in the world. Whether we are seeded or not others will want to avoid us as long as possible.''

If England are not seeded there is a school of thought which suggests they would welcome Brazil on the basis that, assuming England and Brazil qualified as the top two in the group, they would not meet them again until the final.

This, of course, was the scenario in 1970 when England lost to Brazil in the group stages but still went through to the quarter-finals. Unfortunately West Germany then intervened to cancel the re-match in the final.

This, though, is unlikely. Brazil will be kicking off the tournament in Paris and it is doubtful that Fifa, or France, would welcome the prospect of England's fans being part of the opening extravaganza.

Wherever England start they may be without Sol Campbell. The defender collected his second yellow card of the qualifying tournament in Rome and is thus under threat of suspension. England, and other affected countries, are seeking an amnesty partly on the grounds that Brazil and France had an advantage in avoiding suspensions as they did not have to qualify.

"Everybody should start from the same position when we get to France. We want Sol available," Hoddle added. To grant an amnesty would go against the principle established in Euro '96 when Jurgen Klinsmann and Nadal were among those suspended while England, who did not have to qualify, were untroubled. A compromise is being mooted in which only those who received red cards in the last qualifying game would be suspended.

Most of this politicking seems to be passing the local citizenry by. There are a number of posters advertising the World Cup, a boy leaping for a ball under the legend ``Bienvenue au monde'' being the most popular, but Marseilles appears more concerned with L'Affaire Ravanelli.

After Olympique Marseille dropped from second to fourth in the French league, Ravanelli began acting the four-year-old again. This time he is claiming that the media have so turned referees against him he may be hounded out of France.

The local support, whose fanaticism won this ancient port the right to host Thursday's match-cum-draw, will not be able to pass an early judgement on Ravanelli as Italy's representative in the gala match is Alessandro Costacurta. England's Paul Ince is there; Scotland's replacement for the injured Gary McAllister is undecided.

Ireland's fans have won the Fifa Fair Play Award for their sporting behaviour during the Republic's unsuccessful qualifying campaign. Robbie Fowler had been a contender after he attempted to have a penalty given in his favour in last season's Arsenal-Liverpool game revoked.