Top seeds fear dangerous floater France

CAPE TOWN - France will assume the role of international pariah when the draw for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa takes place on Friday.

FIFA's decision not to seed the 1998 World Cup winners has left France as the most dangerous floater in the draw for the 32-nation tournament and the team the eight top seeds will all most want to avoid.

France, losing finalists to Italy in the last World Cup in 2006, acquired sudden notoriety last month when they went through a play-off against Ireland thanks to a goal following a blatant handball by French striker Thierry Henry.

But the French could hardly have imagined they would become even more unpopular, albeit for sporting rather than unsporting reasons, once FIFA decided on Wednesday not to seed them.

The eight top seeds, one for each of the eight groups of four teams, will be hosts South Africa, holders Italy, Brazil, Argentina, England, Germany, Netherlands and Spain.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke told a news conference on Wednesday the seedings were based on October's FIFA world rankings.

None of the seeded nations would fancy such a dangerous opponent as France in their group although Portugal, another unseeded team and Ivory Coast, probably the best of Africa's six representatives, are also on the list of teams they would hope to avoid.


French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes said France was not disappointed at not being seeded.

"There is no good news or bad news just like there is no good draw or bad draw," he said.

"In 2006, everyone thought we had an easy draw and we struggled to go through. I hope we will not be in a 'Group of Death'."

The draw starts at 5pm GMT in Cape Town's International Convention Centre and will be broadcast live to more than 200 countries in a 90-minute television spectacular hosted by South African actor Charlize Theron and Valcke.

Appropriately for Africa's first World Cup, there will be a strong African theme to the draw which will feature African music and dancing and a number of African sports personalities.

Most of the coaches of the 32 teams will also attend although Argentina's Diego Maradona will be forced to stay away after being banned from football by FIFA for two months for a foul-mouthed tirade against journalists following his team's qualification for the finals.

Hosts South Africa already know they will be in Group A and play their opening match at Soccer City in Johannesburg on June 11. The same stadium hosts the final on July 11.

Apart from the seeds, who will be placed in pot one, teams will be placed in three other pots to prevent teams from the same continent facing each other.

The second pot will comprise eight teams from Asia, North and Central America and Oceania - Australia, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea and United States.

The third pot will be the five other African countries and three remaining South American nations - Algeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The final pot is made up of the eight remaining teams from Europe - Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.

The European seeds will be bound to meet one European opponent but the draw mechanics will prevent South Africa playing another African country and Argentina and Brazil meeting a South American team.

On the day before the draw, FIFA's executive committee will hold a meeting on Thursday on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, later to become South Africa's post-apartheid president, spent 18 years in jail.