Fifa targets 'farcical' friendlies

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In a move that many might construe as being pointed directly towards the England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, Fifa yesterday declared that it wants to end "farcical" friendly matches where coaches make unlimited substitutions.

The world governing body of football indicated that it may bring in a new law restricting the number allowed to a maximum of five per team. Other proposals on the agenda of the law-making International Board's meeting in London on 28 February include extending the half-time break from 15 to 20 minutes and a return to an automatic booking for any player who removes his shirt when celebrating a goal.

The change to the laws involving the use of substitutes is for friendlies only and will not effect competitive matches where a maximum of three substitutes are allowed. A number of international coaches, including Eriksson, have taken to using more than 20 players during the course of friendly matches recently, partly to satisfy clubs annoyed at having to release players. Fifa wants the practice to stop.

"Making large numbers of substitutions in friendly matches devalues the game and creates a farcical situation. The number of substitutes in friendly matches must be controlled," said a Fifa spokesman.

Eriksson would obviously be against the rule change, even though he has come in for criticism for his "overuse" of substitutes, particularly when he changed the entire team at half-time in the 3-1 defeat against Australia at Upton Park last year.

Meanwhile, Fifa has also proposed that the Golden Goal, which automatically ends a deadlocked final in extra time, rather than a Silver Goal, which allows the losing team time to recover, is incorporated into the laws of the game.

The board will also consider reports on the recent experiments into radio communication equipment used by referees at the Confederations Cup and in the Scottish Premier League. The recent case of a goalkeeper using radio equipment in Belgium where he was communicating with his coach is not on the agenda, however.

The proposal to lengthen the half-time interval follows a request from the German FA. German clubs believe that by adding five minutes to the break, fans will have more time to spend money on snacks and souvenirs. A German official said last month: "This has got nothing to do with the players, it is about marketing and merchandising."

Many clubs, including German ones, are facing severe financial problems and could welcome a longer half-time break if it would help them raise extra cash. Another topic for discussion involves injured players who need treatment having to remain off the field for at least two minutes before being able to rejoin the game.