Uefa boost for Liverpool's Champions' League dream

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The Independent Online

The Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, yesterday gave Liverpool a glimmer of hope in their attempt to gain qualification as holders for next season's Champions' League competition should they win the final against Milan on 25 May in Istanbul.

The Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, yesterday gave Liverpool a glimmer of hope in their attempt to gain qualification as holders for next season's Champions' League competition should they win the final against Milan on 25 May in Istanbul.

The Swede said that he supported the principle of a change in the rules to allow a club that won the competition to defend their title even if they failed to finish high enough in their league to claim one of the qualification places. However, Liverpool and the Football Association will face a race against time to get the rules changed before next month's entry deadline.

Sources at Uefa indicated last night that, while Johansson's support for the cause would lend weight to Liverpool's case, it would be difficult to get the rules changed in time.

"Let's deal with it when we know the facts after the final of the Champions' League," Johansson said. "And then see to it that we are crystal clear that the champion must always be given its opportunity to defend the title. That we see to it in the future that we have rules and regulations that are understandable from the very beginning.

"I, on one hand, think that someone [who] has qualified under the present regulations for the next Champions' League [should be entered in the competition] and, on the other hand, I understand the champions like to defend its title. If they [the Football] Association would like to, if they are making contact with us, they should make a proposal that would mean extending the number of teams from England in the Champions' League next time from four to five."

The decision does not rest with Johansson alone, but the executive committee of Uefa which is led by the chief executive, Lars-Christer Olsson. It would be responsible for overseeing any change in the rules and the Uefa president said that the FA would be asked to apply formally for Uefa to change the rules.

The FA decided last week that the fourth-placed team in the Premiership - Everton - would win the last Champions' League qualification place even if Liverpool won the final. Despite making the decision, the FA has continued to lobby Uefa to give an extra place to Liverpool. In the light of Johansson's comments, an FA spokesman said that it would continue with its efforts.

He said: "The FA has made strong representations to Uefa over the last few months to request an extra place for Liverpool if they win the Champions' League. We have met with [Olsson] and [Johansson] and we will continue making representations."

Although Johansson encouraged the FA to "write a letter" to the executive committee - which it has already done - the best chance Liverpool have of succeeding would seem to be the wave of emotion that would accompany a victory for them in Istanbul.

Chelsea will adapt their plans to fly to South Korea for an exhibition match against Suwon Blue Wings to allow their manager, Jose Mourinho, and chief executive, Peter Kenyon, to attend the Premier League commission hearing on the alleged illegal approach to Ashley Cole.

The inquiry opens on 17 May, the same day that Chelsea are due to fly out to the Far East, but the Premier League yesterday reminded the club of their responsibility to attend.

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