World Cup Qualifying Is Altered

Times Staff Writer

Leaders of CONCACAF, meeting in Miami on Tuesday, revised the regional qualifying format for the 2006 World Cup and also fixed the location of the final men's and women's qualifying tournaments for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Under the revised format for Germany 2006, the United States will play two fewer World Cup qualifying matches and will start qualifying play next June, six months later than originally scheduled.

The new plan calls for 20 Caribbean nations to play a two-leg series Feb. 18 and March 31, with the 10 winners joining Belize and Nicaragua and the 12 seeded North and Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) teams.

Those 24 teams will play a two-leg series June 12-13 and June 19-20. The 12 winners will be divided into three groups of four for round-robin play between Aug. 18 and Nov. 17.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the final round of qualifying, with each national playing 10 games between Feb. 9 and Oct. 12, 2005. The top three will qualify for Germany 2006, and the fourth-place finisher will go into a playoff, probably against an Asian country.

CONCACAF also announced that the final men's Olympic qualifying tournament will be played in Guadalajara, Feb. 2-12, and that the women's qualifying tournament will be played in San Jose, Costa Rica, Feb. 25-March 7.

In addition, the next CONCACAF Gold Cup will take place July 1-17, but the host nation or nations were not announced. The Canadian cities of Ottawa and Montreal will play host to the May 28-June 6 regional qualifying tournament for next year's FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship in Thailand.

Champions League

Real Madrid became the first team to qualify for the knockout phase of the European Champions League when it held Partizan Belgrade to a 0-0 tie in Belgrade, Serbia.

The English challenge remained on course as Manchester United, playing at home, shut out Rangers of Scotland, 3-0, on two goals by Ruud van Nistelrooy and one by Diego Forlan, and Chelsea routed Lazio, 4-0, in Rome, where Hernan Crespo, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Damien Duff and Frank Lampard all scored.

In other matches, FC Porto, last season's UEFA Cup winner, edged Olympique Marseille, 1-0, in Portugal on a goal by Dmitri Alenitchev, and defending champion AC Milan shut out Club Brugge in Belgium on an 85th-minute volleyed goal by Brazil's Kaka.

Also, Stuttgart came from behind to beat Panathinaikos, 3-1, in Greece; Besiktas edged Sparta Prague, 1-0, in Turkey, and Celta Vigo held off Ajax Amsterdam, 3-2, in Spain.

Quick Passes

U.S. Soccer announced the death of one of its former presidents, J. Eugene Ringsdorf, who died Friday at 91. Ringsdorf, from Baltimore, led the federation from 1961 to 1963.... FIFA ordered Real Madrid to pay an additional $11.5 million to Inter Milan as part of last year's transfer of Ronaldo from Italy to Spain. The money was owed because Madrid midfielder Santiago Solari, who was part of the trade, refused to move to Inter.


Times wire services contributed to this report.

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