DUBAI // There will no additional assistant referees at next summer's World Cup in South Africa, after Fifa yesterday abandoned the notion of enlisting two goal-line officials. The use of additional match officials, to assist the referee and two referee's assistants, has been experimented with in this season's Europa League with mixed feedback from managers and players .
But Fifa's decision, made during an emergency meeting of their executive committee in Cape Town, vetoed the introduction of extra bodies or video technology to bolster the under-fire system. It is one which seems certain to raise eyebrows considering the game's climate. It is only two weeks since French striker Thierry Henry's infamous handball against Ireland, when match officials failed to spot an offence which, wrongly, secured France's place in South Africa. The fall-out continues to rumble on and, after seeing their request to be the 33rd entrant in next summer's showpiece publicly aired by Fifa president Sepp Blatter, before he later rejected it, the Irish football federation have questioned the Swiss's handling of the saga.
Blatter defended Henry after the match, saying it was not his responsibility to tell the referee of any offence. But the Irish federation hit back: "For a man in Mr Blatter's position to empathise with someone who scored a goal by cheating is inappropriate," they said in a statement. The most powerful man in football confused matters further yesterday when he shifted his stance; Henry's handball will be referred to Fifa's disciplinary committee.
"The disciplinary will open a case on the behaviour of the player Thierry Henry," said Blatter. "This is a matter for the disciplinary committee ... it was blatant unfair playing and was shown all around the world." Meanwhile, Fifa have confirmed England, ninth in the world rankings, will be one of eight seeded teams when the World Cup draw takes place tomorrow. Fabio Capello's side will avoid favourites Spain and Brazil in the group stage, while Argentina, Germany, Holland, holders Italy and hosts South Africa make up the remaining seeded nations.
The eight seeds comprise pot one, with the remaining three pots drawn on regional boundaries. The seedings system means that Portugal, currently ranked fifth, and seventh-ranked France, both victors in last month's two-leg play-offs, will go into pot four along with the other six European qualifiers. Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke revealed October's rankings had determined the seeding process. "In the past the seedings have been determined by a mixture of world rankings and performances in past World Cups, but this time the feeling was the October rankings most closely represented the best teams in the tournament," said Valcke.
Come the draw, each seeded nation will face one team in pot two, a side from Asia, north or central America, or Oceania, one from pot three, which has five African and three South American sides, and one from the exclusively European fourth pot. It means a "Group of Death" scenario is likely for one of the seeded nations. England, for example, could be drawn against France, Ivory Coast and the United States. On the flip side, Capello's side could draw Slovenia, Algeria and New Zealand.
In other news, Fifa have written to the Argentine Football Federation to ensure coach Diego Maradona stays away from tomorrow's draw. Maradona is serving a two-month suspension for an expletive-filled rant aimed at national media who criticised Argentina's recent results under his tenure at a post-match news conference. There are rumours Maradona might try to attend the draw by working as a media pundit commentating on the proceedings. But his ban extends beyond international matches and also includes formal Fifa activities.
"Maradona has been officially banned from all football activities," said Valcke. "It is not just a ban for friendly matches or official matches. It is for all football activities. If he is asking for an accreditation, I can tell you - no way." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org