FIFA last night insisted it would have been unfair on England if France had been made one of the top seeds for the World Cup – but insisted they were not being punished for Thierry Henry’s handball.
Being seeded has given England’s World Cup hopes a major boost as Fabio Capello’s side will avoid hosts South Africa and footballing giants Brazil, Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany and Argentina in the group stage.
FIFA’s World Cup organising committee broke with tradition by announcing the seeds would be based solely on October’s world rankings, with no account taken of past performances in recent finals.
That effectively condemned France, beaten finalists in 2006. Had the November rankings been used – FIFA said that gave an unfair advantage to countries involved in play-offs – then England would have missed out.
Under the formula used for the four previous tournaments, Holland would not have been seeded.
Former France coach Michel Hidalgo railed against the decision saying: “It is an injustice. I wonder if we do not pay for the hand of Thierry Henry.”
But FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke – himself French – insisted there had been no agenda against Les Bleus.
Valcke said: “France qualified after additional matches and were not even first in their group. Why should playing more matches and gaining more points kick out England who qualified with a good campaign?
“We used purely sporting criteria. France-Ireland was never part of the discussions.
“We made the decision two months ago that the October rankings would be used because they were fairer; countries who had been involved in the play-offs would have had an unfair advantage because they would have played more games and that affects their ranking.
“In the past the seedings have been determined by a mixture of world rankings and performances in past World Cups, but this time the feeling was the October rankings most closely represented the best teams in the tournament.
“This is not a case of wanting Holland or any other country to be seeded instead of France, just that the feeling was the October seedings represented the best teams.”
With France and Portugal unseeded however, Capello will be acutely aware that his side could still end up in a tough group in tomorrow’s draw.
A worst-case scenario would see England drawn in a group with France or Portugal from the European pot, an Ivory Coast side boasting Didier Drogba and the United States, beaten finalists in the Confederations Cup last summer.
Pots for Friday’s draw: eight groups of four countries to be drawn, each group containing one country from each pot.”
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