x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Diary: Blatter steps in to defend tournament

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, has defended the World Cup from criticism over empty seats and poor refereeing standards. The head of world football's governing body also claimed he was not surprised by the poor showing by African countries. Instead, Blatter, 74, believes the decision by Ivory Coast and Nigeria to change coaches just months before the tournament made it very difficult for them to make an impact. "You cannot manage a national team when you coach two or three months before the competition and this has happened in two of the associations, Ivory Coast and Nigeria," Blatter told BBC Radio 5 Live. On the empty seats, Blatter added: "Empty seats, yes, but not empty stadia. Don't forget 95 per cent of all tickets have been sold."

Nelson Mandela came to the closing ceremony ahead of last night's final between Holland and Spain, capping South Africa's pride in staging a successful tournament. Mandela, 91, who is in frail health, waved as he briefly toured the pitch in a golf cart surrounded by bodyguards. He was given an ecstatic welcome by the crowd chanting his clan name, Madiba, and blowing vuvuzela trumpets. The much-loved former president, who led the country out of apartheid in 1994, was unable to attend the opening ceremony on June 11 because his great granddaughter was killed in a car accident the night before. But his grandson Mandla said earlier he wanted to visit briefly to greet the crowds at the giant Soccer City stadium.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Germany midfielder, has hinted at a move away from Bayern Munich by stating he is not "married" to the Bundesliga champions. One of the standout performers at the World Cup, Schweinsteiger, 25, has a contract at the Allianz Arena until 2012, which he insists he is happy to honour. But he also concedes a move abroad would excite him. "I have a contract with FC Bayern until 2012 and I really respect the club and the contract," he told the German publication Bild. "But I cannot say that I am married to FC Bayern. That would not be fair to the fans. I know that there is something great at FC Bayern. We didn't reach the Champions League final without good reason, and to win it is my ambition. The Bundesliga is great, and has become more important, but if I were to move on, then, of course, the idea of going abroad is what excites me."

Germany's president says he will award Joachim Loew, the coach, the country's Federal Cross of Merit for taking the national team to third place at the tournament. Christian Wulff said in a televised press conference yesterday that the players will be decorated with the Silver Laurel. About 300,000 people were reported to have gathered at public viewing areas in Germany to watch the 3-2 third-place play-off win over Uruguay on Saturday. About 100,000 were near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, roughly a third the number that attended previous Germany games. Berlin police said yesterday the atmosphere was peaceful.

Leaders of Australia's 2022 World Cup bid expect Fifa to clear them of allegations they offered illegal gifts and inducements in their campaign. Frank Lowy, the Football Federation Australia chairman, told The Associated Pressthat he believes Fifa's ethics committee could publish its favourable report "within days". Lowy said the episode has done the bid no credit, but it broke no rules. Fifa started investigating last month after The Age newspaper reported that Fifa executive members - who choose World Cup hosts - were given jewellery and offered travel expenses. Australia's government cleared the federation of further allegations about accounting practices and use of taxpayer funds. The federation is suing the newspaper for defamation.

Keisuke Honda, the Japan forward, has signed on to help his country's bid to host their 2022 bid. Japan's bid committee announced yesterday that Honda will join a team of bid ambassadors that includes Zico, Philippe Troussier and Ivica Osim - the former Japan coaches. Honda, who plays for CSKA Moscow, scored two goals to help Japan reach the last 16 in South Africa. Japan, which co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea, is competing for 2022 against Australia, the United States, Qatar and South Korea.