Football: World Cup bombshell for France
France were handed a World Cup bombshell here on Wednesday when they learned they were not among the top seeds for the tournament, although FIFA insisted the decision had nothing to do with the Thierry Henry handball incident.
CAPE TOWN - The French delegation had travelled to Cape Town confident that they would be among the seven heavyweights of world football to join hosts South Africa in the top strata ensuring a relatively easier draw for the group stages.
But they were shocked when FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke announced that the Netherlands would fill the remaining spot that had been in doubt ahead of both 1998 winners France and semi-finalists four years ago Portugal.
French optimism had been based on the way the seeds had been decided four years ago ahead of the World Cup in Germany.
On that occasion, the latest FIFA rankings at that time had been taken into consideration along with performances in the two previous World Cups.
This time, however, Valcke said that the seeding system was purely based on the FIFA world rankings of October this year.
In those, France were in ninth place, but one place ahead of them were Croatia who failed to qualify for the finals.
But with hosts South Africa already assured to be among the seeds, only seven places were available and France lost out on that criteria. Had it also been based on the two previous World Cups they would have been seeded.
Instead, Raymond Domenech's squad drops down into the pot of teams consisting of the remaining European teams such as Slovenia, Slovakia, Denmark and Switzerland.
And it opens them up to the dire prospect of being drawn with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany or Italy in the group stages. Two teams from each of the eight groups qualify for the last 16 direct elimination stages.
Defending the decision to go by the October rankings, Valcke said that FIFA had felt that was the most efficient way of ensuring that the best teams of the moment were allocated seeding priviledges.
"Holland had a great qualifying campaign, like Spain, the first team having won all their matches, so Holland are in Pot 1," the FIFA No.2, behind Sepp Blatter, said.
He also denied that France had been relegated from the seeds as a punishment for the controversial way they qualified, with Thierry Henry's handball putting them through at the expense of Ireland.
"It had nothing to do with that," he said. "The seedings were decided according to the rankings in October, before that match was played.
"In no way was it a sanction against France. It had nothing to do with the Ireland game."
Henry's now notorious handball in extra-time of the playoff with the Irish in Paris last month was enough to heave the struggling French over the qualification line, but it sparked a maelstrom of protest.
FIFA subsequently turned down Irish calls for the match to be replayed and then threw out another Irish request to make them the 33rd team qualified for the tournament.
But the furore over the incident, which spread around the world, has provoked an under-fire FIFA into calling an emergency meeting of its executive committee for later Wednesday to discuss how to better referee World Cup games.
To rub salt into French wounds, had FIFA gone by the November rankings instead of the October ones, they would have been seeded ahead of England.
Valcke explained: "We made the decision last month 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 advantages because they would have played more games and that affects their rankings.Allan Kelly/AFP/Expatica