Football: World Cup fight over 'nothing'

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The Independent Online
England and Germany were told yesterday by the second most senior figure in world football that they are engaged in a meaningless battle for the 2006 World Cup finals.

Sepp Blatter, the general secretary of the game's international governing body, Fifa, speaking at the Soccerex exhibition at the Wembley Conference Centre, also reprimanded the governing body of European football, Uefa, over their efforts to reshape the rules of the World Cup bidding process.

In addition, Blatter indicated that fans who wanted to watch World Cup finals in their entirety after 1998 should start saving for a satellite dish. Uefa want only one bid per continent for the 2006 event, but Blatter said: "It is Fifa's World Cup, not a matter for confederations.

"Every national association that is part of Fifa has the right to bid, and Germany and England have the same rights to be a candidate. These rights are for all associations, not for a confederation to decide."

There have been whispering campaigns against England, after they decided to press on with a bid, despite an alleged "gentleman's agreement" that Germany should carry the European banner.

"The fight between England and Germany is for nothing," Blatter said. "At this stage we haven't even opened the official bidding for 2006 - that will come at the end of the World Cup next year, in the autumn."

On the question of TV, Blatter said: "The World Cup in 1998 is not a problem, it will be broadcast by the so-called Official Television. But things will change after that, although I can promise that in Europe at least the first game, one semi-final and the final itself will be available on free TV."

However, while the cameras do appear to be calling the tune increasingly, Blatter maintained that their influence would only be allowed to go so far.

"What we could not accept from TV is the idea of time-outs or the game split into quarters or thirds, let alone the use of third referees in the stands," he said."If you lose human error from the game, you will also lose the passion. Football must remain a game, not become a science. The game is based on human mistakes."

Arsene Wenger has confirmed that he is interested in signing the Auxerre midfielder Moussa Saib, but insisted that any deal for the pounds 3m-rated Algerian international could be some way off.

"He is a good player, but he is just one of hundreds of players that we are looking at," Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said. "I don't think he will be here next season, but you never know. He won't make any decision until May or June so we have to be patient."

Arsenal will face opposition for the 28-year-old Saib should Auxerre decide to collect a fee now for a player who will be out of contract next year. Parma, Real Sociedad and Valencia are also interested.

The Monaco right-back Patrick Blondeau confirmed that he wanted to leave the club after virtually winning the French championship on Tuesday, but he is still uncertain which country he will be playing in next season.

"I was impatient to win this title because it's my first and because it will allow me to look towards Italy or England," the 29-year-old Blondeau said. Blackburn have offered pounds 2m, but Sheffield Wednesday and Rangers are also in the chase.

Dean Saunders has blamed off-field problems for undermining Nottingham Forest's survival fight. "There has been different owners, different manager and different assistant managers," the striker said, "and it would be difficult for a factory to be run like that, never mind a football club. We can't kid ourselves. It will take a minor miracle to stay up now."

A knee operation has ruled the goalkeeper Gary Walsh out of Middlesbrough's final four matches of their Premiership relegation struggle and the FA Cup final. Boro's two other keepers, Mark Schwarzer and Ben Roberts, are also struggling with injuries.

Wolves' will be without their pounds 1m midfielder Steve Corica and the winger Michael Gilkes for the First Division play-offs. Both will have surgery tomorrow on knee injuries and are not expected to return until Christmas at the earliest.

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