Football: Keegan shrugs off England's low mark

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN has made light of England's low seeding for today's preliminary draw for the 2002 World Cup.

The England coach is disappointed that his team have been ranked 16th among the second group of seeds - three places lower than Scotland, whom they beat to reach the finals of Euro 2000 - but he was philosophical ahead of the draw in Tokyo's International Forum.

"I'm a bit disappointed, but not surprised by the seedings," Keegan said. "The fact of the matter is that there are teams like Italy and Portugal who are seeded in the same pot as us so we can't be too surprised. It's inevitable that at least one of the outstanding teams of recent times will be in our group and we have to live with that."

The Football Association's executive director, David Davies, echoed Keegan's sentiments and said he would like to see one set of rules used to determine seedings for all qualifying campaigns. "We think it would be better if there was one set of criteria for all decisions on seedings, whether or not we are talking about European Championships or World Cup campaigns," he said. "But we have always in recent times taken a pragmatic approach to these matters."

England will not know until January at the earliest if they will be able to play Japan and South Korea as part of preparations for the 2002 World Cup. The Football Association is in talks with the World Cup co-hosts about playing them in some form of tournament in 2001. Davies held talks with the Japanese and Koreans on Sunday but stressed the FA will have to arrange the fixtures for the World Cup qualifying campaign before it can be decided whether England can go to the Far East in 2001.

"Clearly it would be of some benefit to us and our players to get used to conditions in this part of the world," said Davies. "All decisions of this nature are ultimately for Kevin [Keegan] and will remain so. Yes, we have been talking and I have had meetings out here with both the Japanese and the Koreans. But our plans remain fluid, certainly until our World Cup qualifying campaign is agreed and that won't be until January."

Thailand have approached the FA and would like to play England if they do come to the region to face Japan and Korea.

Pele has confirmed his support for South Africa's bid to stage the 2006 World Cup, saying he thought Brazil could be ready to stage the finals four years later. Brazil are competing against South Africa, England, Germany and Morocco for the right to stage the 2006 finals.

"I think that it is Africa's turn as after 2002 the World Cup would have been held on all the continents apart from Africa," he said. "England and Germany also have very strong bids... but the last World Cup was in Europe and it should be someone else's turn."