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SARS Threatens Staging of Women's World Cup

Soccer/ DAILY REPORT

April 07, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Unless the situation changes dramatically between now and September, the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup in China might have to be postponed because of the mysterious pneumonia known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Already, the Asian qualifying tournament for the Sept. 23-Oct. 11 world championship has been postponed. It was to have been played in Thailand from April 17-30, but Thai authorities last week successfully appealed to the Asian Football Confederation to have it delayed because of the SARS outbreak, which has killed more than 80 people and infected more than 2,000 in 15 nations.

Fourteen teams are to take part in the Asian qualifying, with the top two teams advancing to the world championship and the third-place team playing Mexico in a home-and-home playoff for a spot in China 2003.

The AFC said it would reschedule the qualifying event when it receives clearance from health authorities.

"AFC's top priority is to safeguard the health and welfare of the players, officials and fans," the organization said in a statement released at its headquarters at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "Therefore we have decided it is not safe to continue with this tournament."

Two regional qualifying games for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games also have been indefinitely postponed, and the virus, which is believed to have originated in China, has forced postponement of international tennis and rugby events in Asia and cancellation of the women's ice hockey world championship at Beijing over the weekend.

Blatter Blather

Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the 67-year-old president of FIFA who said he would step down as head of soccer's international governing body after two terms, appears to be singing a different tune.

"From the very beginning I said my presidency will not be more than two mandates," Blatter told Sports Business magazine in December. "I am now in the second mandate and at the end of it I will be 70 years old. I think it will be the correct time to leave the organization."

But in an interview Sunday with the Swiss newspaper Sonntags Zeitung, Blatter said he might stick around.

"It will depend on a revision of FIFA's rules that are currently being carried out whether a third period in office would be generally possible," said Blatter, who was re-elected just before the Korea/Japan World Cup and who recently got married for the third time.

MLS Update

Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes and the Canadian national team have been dealt a severe blow by the injury to striker Dwayne De Rosario, who will undergo surgery today after tearing a ligament in his right knee during a scrimmage last week.

De Rosario, 24, scored the winning goal when the Earthquakes won MLS Cup 2001, beating the Galaxy in the final. He is expected to be sidelined for the season, and will not be able to play for Canada during the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.

On another front, Tulsa, which is trying to land an MLS team, staged an exhibition match between the Dallas Burn and the Kansas City Wizards on Saturday and drew 14,025 fans.

Guatemala Change

Even though he led Guatemala to second place behind Costa Rica in the recent Copa de Naciones in Panama and thereby qualified it for the Gold Cup, Julio Cesar Cortes has been replaced as coach. No explanation was given.

The Guatemalan soccer federation selected Victor Manuel Aguado of Mexico as his successor.

Ferguson 'Silly'

A spokesman for UEFA, European soccer's governing body, Sunday dismissed as "silly" claims by Manchester United Coach Alex Ferguson that the draw for the quarterfinals of the European Champions League had been rigged against his team.

Manchester United will play defending-champion Real Madrid on Tuesday in the first game of a two-match quarterfinal series, and Ferguson was quoted in English tabloids Sunday as suggesting UEFA was out to make sure United does not reach the May final, which will be played at its Old Trafford Stadium.

"It was a nice draw, wasn't it?" Ferguson told the News of the World. "I think they picked it themselves. The Spanish sides didn't get drawn against each other, neither did the Italians.

"How do you think that worked out? They don't want us in the final, that's for sure."

In other quarterfinals this week, Ajax Amsterdam plays AC Milan, Juventus plays Barcelona and Inter Milan plays Valencia.

Quick Passes

Juventus and Chile national team striker Marcelo Salas left a hospital in Santiago, Chile, after knee surgery Saturday. Salas, 28, is expected to be sidelined two months.... CONCACAF has announced that the Aug. 2-16 soccer tournament in the 2003 Pan American Games at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, will include Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic in the men's tournament, along with four undetermined teams from South America. Canada, Costa Rica, Haiti and Mexico will play in the women's event.

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