S.America undecided over future for World Cup qualifiers
By Brian Homewood
ASUNCION, Dec 1 (Reuters)
- South America is undecided on the future of its World Cup qualifying competition after deciding to ditch the controversial league format that has infuriated European clubs.
South American Football Confederation (CSF) spokesman Nestor Benitez said various suggestions had been made, including using the Copa America as a qualifying competition or dividing the teams into groups of five.
"It's premature to talk about this when the teams are still fighting to qualify (for 2006), but it is a subject which will have to be dealt with and there are a number of ideas," Benitez told Reuters.
"Each country has the right to put forward a proposal."
Benitez announced in October that the CSF was likely to scrap the current system, which has been used for the last three World Cups.
Last month, FIFA president Sepp Blatter told reporters in Venezuela that soccer's governing body would no longer accept the system.
World champions Brazil have regularly criticised the format in which the teams play 18 matches each between September 2003 and October 2005.
"Where have you heard of a competition which lasts nearly two-and-a-half years?" said coach Carlos Alberto Parreira recently.
Argentina lead the 2006 qualifying group with 22 points from 11 games, followed by Brazil with 20. Paraguay are third with 16 and only three points separates them and ninth-placed Venezuela.
The top four qualify directly for Germany and the fifth plays off against the winners of the Oceania region.
Benitez said the planned change was due to economic reasons and, to a lesser extent, pressure from European clubs, who have repeatedly complained about their South American players making regular transatlantic trips to play in the qualifiers.
They say the players returned tired, jaded and often injured.
South American national teams, meanwhile, have often accused European clubs of being uncooperative.
Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa -- who has since resigned -- launched a bitter attack on Spanish champions Valencia in September, accusing them of ignoring FIFA rules over the release of forward Pablo Aimar.
"The European interests cannot be ignored because the Europeans buy the best South American players with their capital, invest money and the reality is that their relationship with the confederation has caused problems," said Benitez.
"But the factor which worries the South Americans the most is money and the cost of everyone playing each other."
Benitez said television income had gone down while expenses had risen.
"The federations don't receive as much as they used to. There used to be money left over for them but today there isn't because they spend money on tickets, on accommodation, on bringing players over and sending them back."
"There's nothing left over for their team."
He added: "On the playing side it has been good because it has brought more competition and reduced the gap in standards."