Blatter: World Cup Made for 32, Not 36

Times Staff Writer

FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter reversed course and said he was against raising the number of teams at the World Cup from 32 to 36, according to an interview published Thursday.

“I am against 36 World Cup teams,” Blatter said in an interview with Kicker magazine.

FIFA’s executive committee last week came out in favor of allowing four extra teams into the 2006 finals, although two influential committees of soccer’s world governing body opposed the expansion. The final decision will be made by the executive committee in June.

“We will look very deeply into this theme,” Blatter said. “Until now, there was talk about more places but not about the consequences for television, marketing, duration of the tournament, transparency of the schedule. All contracts were made for a World Cup with 32 teams. Because of that, the executive committee made a mistake with this proposal.”


He said a World Cup with 36 teams could not be a model for the future.

CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, made the proposal after losing a qualifying spot.

FIFA increased the number of teams from 24 to 32 before the 1998 World Cup in France.

Artificial Changes

Just as many American stadium fields are continuing a trend back to natural grass, FIFA announced that the final of the under-17 World Championship this summer in Helsinki will be played on artificial turf -- a first.

Work began Thursday to lay the surface at Helsinki’s Toolo Stadium, the site of 10 matches during the event, which runs Aug. 13-30.

Some international matches have already been played on artificial turf, including Caribbean qualifiers for the World Cup last year, but the final of a FIFA competition has never taken place on the surface.

FIFA has set up a licensing program for artificial turf “in direct response to an ever-increasing number of requests to play football on such surfaces, most notably from regions where the weather makes it impossible to play football outdoors all year round,” a statement said.


Morelia Advances

Reinaldo Navia of Chile scored twice as Morelia pounded Necaxa, 6-0, on Wednesday to advance to the CONCACAF Champions Cup finals.

The Mexican league rivals battled to a scoreless tie last week at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Necaxa had eliminated the Galaxy in the quarterfinals.

After Navia scored the first two Morelia goals, it got scores from Roberto Palacios of Peru in the 28th minute -- off a centering pass from Navia -- Charel Hernandez in the 38th minute and Jorge Almiron of Argentina in the 42nd minute for a 5-0 halftime lead.


Rodrigo Prieto completed the rout with a long-range goal in the 77th minute.

Morelia next will meet the winner of the other semifinal between two other Mexican teams -- America and Toluca. Toluca won the first game, 4-1, with the next game Wednesday.

Kovalenko Suspended

D.C. United midfielder Dema Kovalenko was suspended for one game and fined $1,000 by Major League Soccer for a tackle that broke an opponent’s leg.


Kovalenko will sit out Washington’s game Saturday against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

Officials didn’t call a foul on Kovalenko when he tackled Dallas’ Ronnie O’Brien in the closing minutes of regulation during a 0-0 tie last weekend between the Burn and United.

Abreu Ban Lifted

The Uruguayan Football Assn. (AUF) was ordered by a judge to lift its ban on Sebastien Abreu, a member of the country’s 2002 World Cup team.


The AUF last week had barred Abreu from playing for Nacional because other clubs complained about his transfer from Mexico’s Cruz Azul, where he had been on loan from Deportivo Coruna of Spain.

Last month, Abreu walked out on Cruz Azul after the club fired its players and offered to bring them back with performance-based contracts. Abreu was one of four who refused.

Canada Can Help

If the United States is awarded this year’s relocated Women’s World Cup, Canada would be glad to help.


Kevan Pipe, the Canadian Soccer Assn.'s top official, offered to have Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium as a venue for first-round games.

Although Pipe acknowledged the U.S. may have no interest in the offer, he pointed to Canada’s success playing host to the women’s under-19 championships last summer and that the venue has already sold 34,000 tickets for an August men’s exhibition game against Mexico.

Quick Passes

The MetroStars acquired defender Juan Forchetti and midfielder Jose Galvan on loan from Argentine power Boca Juniors. The players, both 22, are still waiting for their visas to be processed.... South African winger Quinton Fortune has signed a three-year contract extension that will keep him with English Premier League champion Manchester United through 2006, the club announced. Fortune, 25, made only 15 appearances for United this season after breaking his leg in December.


Rome-based club Lazio said it will sell five of its most valuable players, including Jaap Stam of the Netherlands and Claudio Lopez of Argentina, after they refused to take pay cuts.... Luis Aragones, who coaches Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league, reportedly told his players he will quit at the end of the season.... Remo Nogarotta, Australia’s top soccer official, resigned his position as the organization attempts to retool in light of financial troubles.


Times wire services contributed to this report.