Football: World Cup seedings blow for second-rate England

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND WERE made to pay for their poor European Championship qualifying campaign when they discovered yesterday that they will not be one of the nine seeds in next week's draw for qualifying for the 2002 World Cup finals.

Kevin Keegan and the Football Association had hoped that England's 11th- placed ranking in Fifa's world list would be enough to see them as one of Uefa's chosen nine in Tuesday's draw in Tokyo. This makes them - in Fifa's eyes at least - the eighth best team in Europe.

But only results from the qualifying rounds for the last World Cup, the results from France 98 itself and the Euro 2000 qualifying matches have been taken into the account. On this criteria the seeds for the nine European qualifying groups are: Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Yugoslavia, Spain, Czech Republic, Romania, Sweden and Norway.

England will not relish any of those teams in their group, but will be particularly keen to avoid Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic and an ominous trip to Belgrade to play Yugoslavia.

At least they cannot draw Italy who join England in the second group of seedings with Scotland, Portugal and Denmark. The Republic of Ireland are in the third group, with Wales in the fourth and Northern Ireland in the fifth.

Europe will eventually have 15, or perhaps 14, representatives in South Korea and Japan so England's route will be an arduous one. France go through as reigning champions and the nine group winners qualify. There will then be another draw to choose the eight runners-up to play a home and away play-off to qualify with the ninth and last country forced into a play- off with an Asian team.

The last time England were rated among the top nine seeds for World Cup qualifying was way back in Italia 90. They did not qualify for USA 94, but won their group to qualify for France 98.

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