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FIFA Reallocates World Cup Berths

December 18, 2002|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

The World Cup received a major shake up Tuesday when the executive committee of FIFA voted to reallocate the 32 berths available in the quadrennial world championship among its six continental confederations.

The big winner was Oceania, whose qualifying winner, starting with the 2006 World Cup in Germany, will be given direct entry to the tournament.

The decision almost certainly means that Australia or New Zealand will play regularly in World Cups, they being the dominant powers in the region.

Also coming out ahead were Asia and CONCACAF, each of which was allocated an extra half-berth. That means Asia's fifth-place team will play CONCACAF's fourth-place finisher for a berth in the World Cup.

The losers were Europe and South America, which each gave up half a place.

Under the new format, Germany 2006 will feature 14 European nations, including the host; five African nations; four South America nations, not necessarily including Brazil, since the defending champion no longer qualifies automatically; four Asian nations; three CONCACAF nations and one Oceania nation, leaving one place to be contested in an Asian-CONCACAF playoff.

Arena Signs

U.S. Soccer announced that Bruce Arena would remain as the men's national team coach through the 2006 World Cup. Terms were not revealed, but one report indicated that Arena, 51, would be paid $750,000 a year on a four-year contract.

"In our mind, there was never a question," said S. Robert Contiguglia, U.S. Soccer's president. "He was the right man for the job when we hired him in 1998, and he is the right man for the job today."

Arena's record with the U.S. team is 34-18-14, a .621 winning percentage. He coached the team to victory in the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup and to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.

USA Ranked 10th

The Netherlands' 3-1 victory over Germany in November vaulted the Dutch from 10th to sixth place in the final FIFA world rankings for 2002, bumping England, Mexico, Turkey and the United States down a notch each.

The top 10: Brazil, 856 points; France, 787; Spain, 779; Germany, 761; Argentina, 751; Netherlands, 746; England, 734; Mexico, 732; Turkey, 729, and the U.S. 10th at 723.

Hamm, Ronaldo Win

U.S. women's national team forward Mia Hamm and Brazilian striker Ronaldo were named the FIFA World Players of the Year for 2002 in a vote by national team coaches worldwide.

For Hamm, it was the second such honor, the Washington Freedom player having won the inaugural award last year. She received 161 points and finished ahead of Germany's Birgit Prinz with 96 and China's Sun Wen with 58.

"It's a tremendous honor, a dream come true," Hamm said at the 12th annual FIFA Gala in Madrid. "In the U.S., we try to sell the game of soccer. To tell people about this will be marvelous."

Ronaldo became the first three-time winner, having been selected the world's best player in 1996 and 1997.

He received 387 points, 59 of 148 voting coaches choosing him as their top player.

German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was second with 171 points, and French midfielder Zinedine Zidane third with 148.

Scolari Debut

Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Brazil to the World Cup and officially took over as coach of Portugal on Sunday, will make his debut on Feb. 12 when Portugal plays Italy in Genoa. The Italian team last played in the port city in 1991.

UEFA Fines

The soccer federation of Slovakia was fined $42,000 and England's was fined $14,000 by UEFA for the misbehavior of their fans during a 2004 European Championship qualifying game on Oct. 12 in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Slovakia was fined for the racist abuse its fans directed at England's Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey. England was fined for improper conduct after its fans fought with Slovakian police.

Quick Passes

FIFA appointed former Swiss investment banker Urs Linsi, 53, as its general secretary. Linsi had been FIFA's financial director and the deputy to Michel Zen-Ruffinen, who was fired as general secretary in June by FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, whom he had accused of corruption.... Antonio Pimenta Machado, chairman of the Portuguese team Vitoria Guimaraes, was released on $1.03-million bail in Lisbon pending trial on charges of embezzlement and forging documents.

China announced that it was in contract talks with Dutchman Arie Haan to become its national team coach. The announcement was made less than a month after Haan had denounced such reports as "lies and fabrications." ... French national team defender Mikael Silvestre, 25, signed a four-year contract that will keep him at Manchester United until 2007.

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