Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FIFA in play-off u-turn

Ireland will face a daunting World Cup play-off clash against one of Europe's top teams after FIFA made a dramatic u-turn and confirmed they will use a seeding system for the European play-offs.

After a FIFA meeting in Rio de Janeiro last night, President Sepp Blatter confirmed: "We have decided on seeding the teams into two groups of four, taking the Fifa world rankings into account, with the top four in one pot and the others in another pot."

"There will be a separate draw to decide home and away," he added of the two-leg ties to determine four European places at the 2010 finals in South Africa.

FIFA originally planned to host an open draw for the eight best runners-up in the nine European groups, but with the likes of Germany, France and Portugal all in danger of securing a play-off spot, at best, FIFA have decided to employ a seeding system.

That would certainly leave Giovanni Trapattoni's men, currently ranked 38th, in the second tier should they secure second spot in Group 8, with Russia, Croatia, Greece and Serbia also potential opponents this November.

Irish fans would have been hoping for a kind draw against the likes of Slovenia, Bosnia or Slovakia, but that possibility now seems unlikely if FIFA stick to their guns.

It is believed the prospect of a World Cup tournament without commercial heavyweights Germany prompted the u-turn.

However, FAI Chief Executive John Delaney remains optimistic about Ireland's chances in spite of the revised seeding system.

Speaking in today's Irish Daily Mail, Delaney insisted: "I'm not too sure where that [seeded draw] will place us but we've got concentrate first on what we've got to do.

"We've got to try and beat Italy and take it to the last game. And if we end up in the play-offs, we'd have been delighted to have got to the play-offs at the start of the group and we'll take what we get."

He added: "All I will say is that and team who finishes second mustn't have been top team in their group, obviously. So it gives you a chance."

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