Football: England's World Cup hopes dim

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The Independent Online
AS ENGLAND were recovering yesterday from their surprise 1-0 defeat in the World Youth Championship to the United States, Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, was heaping praise on the Nigerian organisers.

England's inexperienced side struggled against the Americans, whose squad is composed mainly of college players, with only five professionals, including John Torrington of Manchester United. Their winning goal came in the 11th minute from the defender Dan Califf, who headed in at England's far post from a corner by Francisco Gomez.

There was more bad news for England yesterday, when Blatter, the head of football's world governing body, appeared to have all but killed off England's chances of staging the 2006 World Cup.

"When the World Cup is rotated from one continent to the other - 1994 in America, 1998 in Europe - in 2002 they [the games] are in Asia, then in 2006, logically, clockwise, they should go to Africa," he said. "Africa deserves to have access. Africa should have access to the holding of official sporting events,"

Blatter stressed that it was up to the continent to produce a nation that fulfilled the organisational requirements to hold such an event. South Africa and Nigeria are two of five African nations bidding for the 2006 tournament along with Egypt, Ghana and Morocco. Brazil, England and Germany also have bid for the quadrennial championship.

Regarding Nigeria's chances, Blatter said Fifa would have to wait and see if the World Youth Championship, a World Cup for Under-20 sides, concludes without any major problems. Another test, he said, will be Nigeria's co- hosting of the African Cup of Nations with Ghana next year. Then, he added, the country's candidacy could be taken seriously.

However, Blatter ruled out any possibility of two or more nations sharing the Cup in 2006, and he let it be known that he - serving then as president Joao Havelange's secretary general - opposed it when the executive committee awarded it to South Korea and Japan for 2002, saying that it breached Fifa rules.

"Maybe the World Cup in 2002 is a success," Blatter said. "But Fifa will not go into a second co-hosting [tournament]... The World Cup in 2006 will not be a co-hosting situation, it will be for one single association and one country only."

Blatter also reiterated his belief that the World Cup could be held every two years and said support was growing for the idea. He said that he saw the scheme as viable if tournaments such as the European Championship and Africa's Nations' Cup were used as qualifying competitions.

"At the moment, if a player misses a World Cup, he has an eight-year gap between World Cups and by the next one, he might be too old."

There would be fewer games rather than more if nations adhered to his proposed worldwide calendar, which would set aside specific dates for international games.

Blatter also envisaged a bright future for women's football, and described himself as converted to the cause.

"There are 40 million girls and women playing the game. By the year 2006, as many girls as boys will be playing," he predicted.

Blatter also said that referees here are under orders to crack down on players faking fouls and feigning injuries. "We are aware of this faking and diving sport which has nothing to do with football," Blatter said.

"But you can be assured that as of today orders will be sent out to referees to ensure that all of this is punished with yellow cards."