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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK

Sport: Football

Fifa settles Asia World Cup dispute

Japanese fans get behind their team at France 98

International football officials are reported to have agreed a deal giving Asian nations the chance to compete for a fifth place in the 2002 World Cup.

BBC Sports News Correspondent Gordon Farquhar: "Europe could allow a play-off situation"
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) had complained to Fifa, football's world governing body, that Asia had only two qualifying places in the finals after joint hosts South Korea and Japan take their automatic places.

In December the confederation, which represents more than 40 Asian footballing nations, said the allocation was unfair and threatened strike action if it was not increased.

[ image: The AFC says Asian teams should not suffer because of the joint-hosting]
The AFC says Asian teams should not suffer because of the joint-hosting
European teams had been allocated 15 places in the 32-team finals.

Now Fifa officials meeting in California say they have reached an agreement under which the fifth placed Asian team will play a European team for a spot in the play-offs.

That means Europe gives up the right to one of its places, potentially making way for a fifth Asian nation - from Lebanon in the west to the Philippines in the east - to compete for the cup.

Europe defiant

"It has been decided that Europe and Asia will play for half a place," said Fifa Executive Committee member Jack Warner. "It is the best way for these things to be decided, to avoid contentious debate."

In March, Lennart Johansson, the head of European football's governing body Uefa, said Asian nations should "look somewhere else" for help.

"It's always Europe that has to give in," he said. "My opinion is Europe should not give up a spot."

[ image: France 98: Little joy for Asian teams]
France 98: Little joy for Asian teams
At the finals in France last year, Asia had three automatic places plus a play-off spot which Iran won by beating Oceania winner Australia. However none of the Asian teams advanced beyond the first round.

Nonetheless the AFC, which says it represents the football for more than half the world's population, argued that that place had effectively been taken away.

The Asian countries said it was not their decision to appoint co-hosts, thus losing them one place.

They say the decision was a political one and should not affect their participation.

England's Fifa representative David Will: "England's chances of hosting the World Cup have been greatly boosted"
South Korea and Japan were made co-hosts after a particularly bitter and expensive bidding process.

The 2002 cup will be the first time the finals have been held in Asia.

In 1966 African and Asian nations - with the exception of North Korea - withdrew from the qualifying rounds for the 16-team finals after just one place was allocated to a team from the two continents.

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