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UEFA Leaders Make Changes to Schedule


European soccer leaders took action on a variety of fronts Thursday in an effort to streamline the sport on the club and national team levels.

To begin with, the executive committee of the Union of European Football Assns. (UEFA) announced in Nyon, Switzerland, that UEFA will withdraw from the FIFA Confederations Cup after the next two tournaments, in 2003 and 2005.

"We will not participate [after that], but it would be wrong to step out now," said Lennart Johansson, UEFA's Swedish president. "This competition will not be here to stay."

The Confederations Cup, an eight-nation tournament favored by FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, is held every other year and features the champions of each of FIFA's six continental confederations plus the World Cup winner and host nation.

Australia, France and the United States are bidding for the 2003 event, with Germany scheduled to be the host in 2005.

Johansson also indicated that UEFA is contemplating withdrawing from the FIFA World Club Championship, the most recent version of which was scheduled for Spain last year before financial difficulties caused its indefinite postponement.

In addition, UEFA changed the format of its most popular and financially lucrative competition, the Champions League.

Starting in the 2003-2004 season, the competition will continue to begin with 32 teams drawn into eight groups of four for first-round play, but the second round involving 16 teams will no longer be in group format but will become a two-legged knockout competition with home and away matches.

"It is not easy to change a competition which is recognized as the best club event in the world, but sometimes you need to act for the future," Johansson said.

"We believe this reduction in the size of the competition [the number of games played] is in the longer-term interests of everyone involved--clubs, players, fans, broadcasters, sponsors and European football in general."

The "burnout" factor that was obvious among some European teams taking part in the 2002 World Cup was another reason behind the changes, which are intended to reduce the number of games top players must play.

The UEFA leaders said they would address changes in the continent's second major club competition, the UEFA Cup, at a meeting in December.

Zico to Coach Japan

Former Brazilian World Cup striker Zico accepted an offer to become coach of Japan's national team, replacing Frenchman Philippe Troussier, who coached the Japanese into the second round of the recent World Cup.

Zico, 49, has been playing and coaching in Japan since 1991, when he joined the Kashima Antlers of the J-League.

"I always said the last thing I wanted to do was be a football coach," Zico said in Rio de Janeiro, "but in life you can never say never."

He will take charge of Japan's team July 20 and begin preparing it for an Aug. 22 friendly against China in Beijing.

Italian Supercup in Libya

The Italian Supercup, the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season, will be played not in Italy but in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Both teams, Serie A champion Juventus and Italian Cup winner Parma, agreed to play the Aug. 25 game in the North African country, whose state-owned Foreign Investment Company owns 7.5% of Juventus.

The only other time the Italian Supercup was played outside Italy was in 1993, when Washington played host to the game.

Yallop to Coach MLS All-Stars

Frank Yallop, coach of the defending Major League Soccer champion San Jose Earthquakes, was named coach of the MLS All-Star team that will play the U.S. national team in the league's All-Star game Aug. 3 at RFK Stadium in Washington.

Aguirre Raids Mexico

Former Mexico national team coach Javier "Vasco" Aguirre, who stepped down after the World Cup to take charge of the Spanish club Osasuna of Pamplona, has lured a couple of his former players to Spain.

Carlos Ochoa of Monterrey and Manuel Vidrio of Pachuca are expected to join Osasuna for the start of the new season Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, Mexican striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco remains in limbo, no longer on loan to Valladolid of Spain but unable to come to a contract agreement with Club America of Mexico.

Blanco reportedly is asking Club America, which owns his rights, for $2 million a year to play for the Mexico City-based team.

Inamoto's New Address

Japan national team striker Junichi Inamoto, who languished on the bench at Arsenal of the English Premier League but burst into the spotlight by scoring two goals at the World Cup, has been traded to another London club, Fulham.

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