Football: Raul eases strain on Toshack

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The Independent Online
JOHN TOSHACK'S job was probably saved last night when his 10-man Real Madrid side staged an extraordinary second-half fightback against their less renowned neighbours but Spanish League leaders, Rayo Vallecano, to win 3-2 away, Real's first victory in nine games.

Poor defence by Real, who provide the opposition for Lee Dixon's testimonial match at Highbury tomorrow, allowed Rayo to go in at half-time 2-0 ahead through goals by Jordi Ferron and Julio Canabal. Real began their recovery at the start of the second half with a goal from Fernando Morientes, who was sent off in the 59th minute. Three minutes after that a penalty by Fernando Hierro put them level and Raul seaaled victory five minutes from time with a brilliant chip.

Uefa, European football's governing body, have decided to choose the team from Europe to play an Asian side in a play-off for the 2002 World Cup finals at random.

The European team will meet the Asian one as part of the deal brokered by the world game's ruling body, Fifa, in July which averted the threat of a boycott by Asian nations from the finals, which are being staged in South Korea and Japan.

The decision was made by Uefa's executive committee, whose spokesman, Frits Ahlstroem, said the runners-up from the nine European qualifying groups would be treated equally. "Eight of them will play against each other in four play-offs to see who joins the nine group winners in the finals and one will be selected at random to face the Asians."

Fifa awarded Asia four direct berths for the 2002 finals comprising the two co-hosts and two qualifiers. Another Asian team will meet the European side. "Europe could have 15 countries in the next World Cup as a result of France winning last time," Ahlstroem said.

Those comprise France as world champions, the nine group winners from the European qualifying competition, plus the four runners-up who come through the European play-offs. The 15th nation would qualify if they beat the Asian team in the other play-off.

The World Cup qualifying dra, will be made in Tokyo on 7 December.

The executive also decided to stage this season's European Cup final at the Stade de France in Paris, venue for last year's World Cup final, on 24 May. It will be the first time the final has been played in Paris since 1981 - when Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0 at the Parc des Princes - and only the fourth time it has been played in the French capital.

The Uefa Cup final will be held in Copenhagen on 17 May.

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