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FIFA Resists World Cup Expansion

Times Staff Writer

Expansion may have been the rage in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball over the last decade, but FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, apparently isn’t ready to continue the trend.

Two influential FIFA committees on Friday opposed a proposal to increase the number of berths at the 2006 World Cup finals from 32 to 36, saying it was too complicated and expensive.

“The great majority of the members of the FIFA technical and football committee expressed opposition to the proposal,” said a statement released by world soccer’s governing body a day before its executive committee is to discuss the issue.

FIFA said that during discussions led by Angel Maria Villar Llona of Spain, chairman of the football committee, and former French player Michel Platini, chairman of the Technical Committee, “the large majority of members shared the opinion that the number of teams competing in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals should remain at 32.”

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FIFA’s executive committee meets today in Zurich, Switzerland, to discuss the plan that was put forward in March by CONMEBOL, the South American federation.

Motivation for the plan came after FIFA took away half a qualifying spot from the region and declared that the winner of the Oceania region would automatically qualify instead of having to face the fifth-place South American team in a playoff.

Among FIFA’s arguments against the plan are:

* Nine groups of four teams each is not feasible. The next viable number of teams would be 40, drawn in eight groups of five, adding 32 more games.

* Determining the best second-place teams to advance could not be done simultaneously, resulting in extended inactivity for some teams and possibly arranged results.

* Increasing the number of teams would increase the financial and logistical requirements, but not prompt a corresponding increase in revenue.

Beckenbauer Incensed

Franz Beckenbauer, president of the organizing committee for the 2006 World Cup, has accused FIFA of being greedy. He has threatened to resign if the Germans don’t have full control over ticket pricing.

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Beckenbauer’s comments were published Friday in Kicker magazine.

Beckenbauer said FIFA was trying to set “crazy prices” for VIP ticket packages that no one in Germany would be willing to pay. He did not reveal the figures, but said they would be met with “total incomprehension” in Germany.

“The chief objective of FIFA is to make money; everything else is secondary,” Beckenbauer said.

Said FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren: “We have to strike a balance between the price level and the affordability while bearing in mind that ticketing is a very sensitive issue.”

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Beckenbauer said German organizers would not be made responsible for things over which they had no influence.

“We won’t let that happen. I’d rather quit,” Beckenbauer said.

Henry Honored

Arsenal striker Thierry Henry achieved a double when he was chosen English soccer’s player of the year by the Football Writers Assn.

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The French star also won the player-of-the-year award from the Professional Footballers Assn., the players’ union, last Sunday.

Henry, who has 34 goals this season, beat out Manchester United striker Ruud van Nilstelrooy for both awards.

Henry, 25, is the fourth Frenchman to win the writers’ award, following Eric Cantona (1996), David Ginola (1999) and last year’s winner, Robert Pires, Henry’s Arsenal teammate.

Ferguson Priorities

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A loss by Arsenal to Leeds United on Sunday could clinch the English Premier League title for Manchester United, but United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson won’t be glued to his television.

“I don’t think I’ll be watching Sunday’s match,” Ferguson said. “I’ve got my grandson’s birthday, so I’ll be at the party.”

Manchester United must defeat Charlton today to have a chance at clinching this weekend.

Quick Passes

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Ireland has replaced South Korea for a match against the U.S. women’s national team on June 14 in Salt Lake City. The change was made because of the rescheduling of the Asian qualification tournament for the 2003 Women’s World Cup. The tournament was originally scheduled for April but was postponed because of the SARS outbreak in Asia. The rescheduled dates are June 10-22 in Bangkok, Thailand.... The Italian soccer team Inter Milan has been fined $52,000 by European soccer’s governing body for unruly behavior by its fans during a Champions League match against Newcastle United of England on March 11. UEFA also fined Wales’ soccer governing body $37,000 for withdrawing from the 2005 European Women’s Championship after the tournament draw had taken place.

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Times wire services contributed to this report.


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