Blatter sparks fury by backing Platini in battle for Uefa presidency

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The Independent Football

The race to become the most powerful man in European football exploded in controversy yesterday on the eve of the Uefa presidential election. Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, the world game's governing body, infuriated Uefa's current incumbent Lennart Johansson by publicly declaring his support for the challenger Michel Platini, who is favourite to win.

The pair are going head to head today but in a speech at the opening of the Uefa Congress here, Blatter made no secret of his choice. "Both contenders for the presidency have asked me whether they should run as candidates and I have answered yes to both and I would also have said yes to others," Blatter said. "By saying no to one or another I would have abandoned my neutrality but also as president of Fifa I have the right to say - and this is nothing negative and does by no means reduce the merits of Lennart Johansson - that I do have a sympathy for the man who has been accompanying me since 1998, Michel Platini."

It provoked a furious reaction from Johansson and his supporters claim there could now be a backlash against Platini. Johansson said of Blatter: "I think he's wheeling and dealing, going right and then left, having one opinion on Monday and then another on Tuesday. That's not friendship, that's far away from it. I don't follow his ways." Johansson added that he thought that Uefa chief executive, Lars-Christer Olsson, would resign if Platini won.

Blatter defended his right to express his opinion to the national associations but accepted he had upset the Johansson camp. "They may criticise, but I said what I think," Blatter said. "I have to say to the associations what I am thinking. I cannot be the referee but I have the right to say I have sympathy for the man who has been with me through the turmoils of the last eight years."

Platini said only: "I think it was an excellent intervention."