FIFA will consider problems with the ball

After months of denying that the ball being used in the 2010 World Cup was anything but perfect, FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, on Saturday bowed to the torrent of criticism aimed at the erratic sphere.

“We’re not deaf,” said Jerome Valcke, the organization’s general secretary, said in Johannesburg. “FIFA is not unreceptive about what has been said about the ball.”

No changes will be made during the World Cup, but after it ends on July 11 FIFA said it would meet with coaches and players and then discuss their complaints with the ball’s manufacturer, Adidas.

The ball travels too fast, is wobbly and unpredictable in flight, and has been blamed for everything from goalkeeper errors to missed free kicks.

Europe’s poor showing

Only six of the 13 European teams that reached South Africa made it through to the round of 16, and FIFA was at a loss Saturday to offer a plausible explanation.

“Europe is not as strong as in the past,” Valcke, said while announcing that the number of teams and their division by continent will not change for the Brazil 2014 tournament.

“Some teams did not change enough from 2006. Maybe also these European players play a lot of games, but most of the players on Brazil and Argentina play in Europe too. In fact, most of the players on all these teams play in Europe.

“Mainly, I think, football in other countries is stronger than in the past.”

Ticket scams cost fans

A report in Johannesburg’s Sunday Times said ticket scams cost South African companies and fans more than $850,000.

The newspaper said the victims were sold tickets that were later canceled because they were not purchased through FIFA-accredited agents.

Meanwhile, vast blocks of empty seats have been a frequent occurrence during the tournament and have ranged from 5,000 to 11,000. Bad weather has also affected attendance in some cities.

France’s Vieira calls it quits

Patrick Vieira, a World Cup winner with France in 1998, has announced his international retirement.

Vieira, 34, was not selected for the French team that flopped badly at this World Cup, and told France’s Canal Plus television network that “it wouldn’t be reasonable” to expect a call-up by new Coach Laurent Blanc, his old teammate from 1998.

Vieira, who also won Euro 2000, played 107 games for France.

The pain in Spain

Influential Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso, who suffered a right ankle sprain in Spain’s win over Chile on Friday, is “a serious doubt” for the team’s round of 16 match against Portugal on Tuesday, said Coach Vicente del Bosque.

English upset media

England scored another own goal on Saturday when it held a news conference ahead of its game against Germany in Bloemfontein on Sunday and then limited the session to a handful of questions, all taken from handpicked British reporters.

International journalists were given virtually no time with Coach Fabio Capello and midfielder Steven Gerrard, leaving reporters from Italy to Brazil complaining about English “arrogance.”

More than 250 journalists and 30 television crews attended the session, many having traveled long distances to get there, only to be ignored.

“That was typical,” said veteran Italian journalist Giancarlo Galavotti. “They do not seem to appreciate that this is the World Cup, with the emphasis on the word ‘World.’”

Times wire services contributed to this report.