Football: French hosts hope to recruit Platini

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The Independent Online
FRANCE lost a national coach but qualified for the 1998 World Cup finals yesterday. Minutes after being awarded the right to host the quadrennial jamboree, the kissing and hugging of the French contingent congregated at Fifa's Zurich headquarters were curtailed when Michel Platini stood up to announce his resignation.

The two decisions may be related. Immediately following Platini's revelation, which he says was made before France's disappointing displays at last month's European Championship, he was installed as favourite to head the 1998 organising committee.

Platini refused to disclose what his next move would be, but discounted working in Italy, where he is still venerated at Juventus, or in Japan, where a new league is being established at great expense.

France's success in securing the game's most exalted event may have settled Platini's future. The French won easily (something Platini's team had failed to manage this year), beating the challenge of Morocco by 12 votes to seven, with Switzerland failing to register any support. The Moroccans, hoping to profit from a post-Italia '90 desire to award Africa its first major international competition, had felt that the Bastia disaster, when 15 died after a temporary stand collapsed at a cup semi-final, would mitigate against the French, but ultimately it affected only the Swiss cause.

They had planned using temporary stands for the finals, which in the aftermath of Bastia were banned by Fifa, so emasculating the Swiss submission. This, in turn, reduced the possibility of a split of the European vote allowing France, which had ensured the FA's support by agreeing to back English designs for the 1996 European Championship, to prevail.

France put forward an impressive case: 15 stadiums in 14 towns with a pledge to erect an 80,000-seat arena in a Parisian suburb. 'I think France won because they were totally equipped for such a major tournament,' Lennart Johansson, the president of the European governing body, Uefa, said.

The Moroccans were miffed. Their sports minister, Abdellatif Semlali, went on the offensive, highlighting financial irregularities that have dogged French football at club level. He even brought up Bastia. 'We have no cases before the courts. We do not have stadiums that collapse,' he said.

Their bid was backed by King Hassan's millions, but was hampered by a lack of venues. 'They are still in the planning stage,' Johansson said. Only two stadiums fulfilled Fifa requirements, although four more were planned while six were to be extended.

The Morrocans departed muttering about the possibility of bidding for the 2002 finals. Unfortunately, it might be third time unlucky for Morocco (who also lost out to the United States for the 1994 rights) as Japan will doubtless present a formidable and money-spinning case for Asia.

Money and experience win votes. France had the know-how, having hosted the 1984 European Championship and the 1938 World Cup finals, an event scarred by boycotts, Nazi salutes and the most ill-disciplined game in the finals' history, when Brazil and Czechoslovakia fought out a draw in Bordeaux, both sides finishing with nine men (three red cards and a broken leg).

Aston Villa have appointed the former Chelsea and Manchester United manager Dave Sexton, 52, to their coaching staff.