Blatter apologises over Ireland revelation

CAPE TOWN - FIFA president Sepp Blatter apologised to Ireland on Wednesday for revealing that the country's football association had asked for a 33rd place at next year's World Cup in South Africa.

Blatter said he regretted telling a football business conference in Johannesburg that the Irish had asked for an extra place at the World Cup finals after their controversial elimination in their qualifying play-off with France.

"I regret what I created by what I said and I'm sorry about the headlines. The Irish were very sporting people when they came to see us at FIFA. I'm very sorry about that," the president of football's world governing body said at a new conference in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Blatter said the Football Association of Ireland had written to withdraw their request, made when they felt they had been cheated out of a World Cup place by a handball by Thierry Henry that led to an aggregate winning goal for France in their European zone play-off match.

Blatter had been branded a 'loose cannon' and 'an embarrassment to FIFA' by Ireland's assistant manager Liam Brady for revealing details of a supposedly private meeting with Irish officials last week.

The former Arsenal and Juventus midfielder said the Irish federation had believed their meeting was private and confidential.

"Mr Blatter is a law unto himself and I thought it was very disrespectful," Brady said.

Brady said Ireland knew all along that there was very little chance of their request being granted but had decided to make it anyway on principle.

"We asked because we wanted them to respond in a measured way and see what they say," he explained.

The Irish request was discussed at an extraordinary meeting of FIFA's executive committee on Wednesday but FIFA had already said there was no chance of accommodating them in the 2010 World Cup field.