Asia will be rewarded for South Korea and Japan’sefforts at the 2002 World Cup by gaining an effective extra place in the finals in Germany in four years’ time.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter told delegates at the Asian confederation’s congress in Kuala Lumpur that the region would have four and a half slots in the 2006 finals – which would be one more than was available to Asia in France four years ago.

At this year’s finals Asia benefited from automatic qualification for co-hosts Korea and Japan and had been awarded two and a half other slots. China and Saudi Arabia qualified but Iran lost to the Irish Republic in an Asia/Europe play-off.

Blatter also signalled the virtual and long-awaited certainty of a direct entry place for Oceania which, effectively, takes upthe place previously available to the World Cup holders.

It was decided last year that the holders should no longer qualify directly and thus Brazil will have to undertake the tortuous South American qualifying route for the right to defend their crown in Germany. Blatter said:

“For 2006, we will have 31 slots for distribution unlike 29 at this year’s World Cup. One of the free slots should go to a confederation which has not had a direct entry previously, which is Oceania. They have had a half slot previously, so if you take the four slots that Asia had and add the half slot previously given to Oceania, you don’t have to be a mathematician to see what shall be done.”

The FIFA president did warn, however, that a formal decision would rest with the executive committee meeting in Madrid on December 17 and 18.

The AFC congress voted in Mohamed Bin-Hammam of Qatar as new president and Thailand’s Worawi Makudi and Japan’s Junji Ogura as representatives on the FIFA executive. Worawi and Ogura (a newcomer to the FIFA exco) each gained 25 votes to edge out Yusef Al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates, who had 23 votes.
By Keir Radnedge