Fifa sows seeds of doubt for England

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England face the prospect of a tough route to the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan when the draw for the qualifying competition is made in Tokyo tomorrow.

England face the prospect of a tough route to the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan when the draw for the qualifying competition is made in Tokyo tomorrow.

Fifa, the world game's governing body, confirmed yesterday that it would use the rankings drawn up by Uefa, its European counterpart, in making the draw. This means that England, like Scotland, will be placed in the second pot of seeds and could find themselves in a qualifying group alongside the likes of Germany, the Netherlands or Spain, who are all in the first pot of seeds.

Uefa's seedings are based on each country's performance in the qualifying campaigns for France 98 and Euro 2000. England are 16th, while Scotland, who lost to Kevin Keegan's team in the Euro 2000 play-offs, are 13th.

The Republic of Ireland (19th) narrowly missed out on a place in the second pot of seeds, while Wales (36th) just scraped into the fourth group. Northern Ireland (40th) are among the fifth and bottom seeds.

Spain, Romania and Norway head the rankings, but England can take some consolation from the company they are keeping in the second pot of seeds, with Italy, Russia and Portugal all in the same pot.

The 50 European teams will be drawn into nine qualifying groups - four of five and five of six. The nine winners will automatically qualify, while the eight best runners-up will play off against each other over two legs. The remaining runner-up will play the third best qualifier from Asia.

Keegan is here as part of the Football Association delegation, which is taking the chance to build on its relationship with the co-hosts for 2002. The FA is trying to arrange matches against both Japan and South Korea before the finals and would like to schedule the games for the early summer of 2001.

England could even play Japan and South Korea as a participant in the 2001 Confederations' Cup, which Fifa is considering using as a warm-up for the World Cup. The FA's executive director, David Davies, met the Koreans yesterday.

As well as helping the players, the matches could also help England's 2006 World Cup bid. South Korea are believed to be supporting Germany's bid and the FA's offer to play them might help win them over to their side.

A record 198 countries have entered the 2002 World Cup, with only North Korea and four other Fifa members deciding to miss the competition. North Korea's decision ended speculation that it might host some games and send a joint team with South Korea.

The other four nations to miss out are Afghanistan, Niger, Burundi and Papua New Guinea. A total of 174 countries went through the qualifying rounds for the World Cup in France in 1998.

The qualifying procedures for the other five confederations were also announced yesterday, with the South American competition the most straightforward. The 10 teams will play home and away matches against each other in one league, with the top four qualifying for the finals and the fifth-placed team meeting the winners of the Oceania confederation for a place in the finals.

Brazil, having qualified for the 1998 World Cup as champions, did not take part in the last South American qualifying competition and so this time each team will play 18 matches instead of 16. Fifa's general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, admitted that this posed a problem because so many South American teams have players based in Europe and there would be a total of 90 matches to organise.

It was announced yesterday that one of the 2002 semi-finals will be held in Saitama, Japan, and the other in a South Korean venue still to be decided. The final, on 30 June, will be in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The competition kicks off in Seoul on 1 June. Kick-off times have yet to be decided, as have ticketing arrangements.

A spectacular showpiece is promised for tomorrow's draw, which will be held in Tokyo's International Forum in front of 4,500 guests and a worldwide television audience of tens of millions. The European draw begins at 20.02 local time, which will be 11.02am in Britain.

France's World Cup-winning coach, Aimé Jacquet, and the former Mexico striker, Hugo Sanchez, will help conduct the draw along with several of Japan's and Korea's leading personalities, including the former sumo wrestler Konishiki, alias the "Dump Truck", and the former Japanese tennis player, Kimiko Date.



Pot A: Spain, Romania, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, Yugoslavia.

Pot B: Austria, Portugal, Italy, SCOTLAND, Ukraine, Russia, ENGLAND, Turkey, Denmark.

Pot C: REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, Croatia, Slovakia, Israel, Bulgaria, Greece, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania.

Pot D: Cyprus, Hungary, Finland, Iceland, Macedonia, Latvia, Bosnia, Slovenia, WALES.

Pot E: Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, NORTHERN IRELAND, Albania, Faroe Islands, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, San Marino, Andorra.