[SPORTS VIEW]Slots of intrigue surround World Cup

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[SPORTS VIEW]Slots of intrigue surround World Cup

FIFA on Wednesday announced the new allocation system that will be in effect for the 2006 World Cup soccer games in Germany. The organization divides the world into six regions to determine which countries play in the World Cup, with each region getting a certain number of slots.

The usual backstage intrigues and complicated schemes played out. Luckily for Korea, the results look good for the Asian region.

Though countries in the Asian region were hoping to increase their allocation from 4.5 to 5 spots, I was pessimistic, and worried that the region's count would fall to 4 or 3.5. In 1998 the region got 3.5 spots, in 2002 one more, or 4.5. But because this year's World Cup was co-hosted by Korea and Japan, automatically qualifying both for the event, the region only had 2.5 free slots.

That both Korea and Japan advanced to the second round this year must have influenced the decision to keep Asia's number at 4.5 spots.

The fifth-seeded team from Asia will compete in a playoff with the fourth-seeded team from the North and Central American region to determine whether four or five teams from Asia make it to the games in Germany. The odds for the fifth-seeded Asian team will be good; at least much better than if it had to play a do-or-die match with a team from the European or South American regions. Last time, Asia's extra team was Iran, who lost to Ireland.

So looking for Asia to get five nations in the next World Cup, I am starting to think about our cousins in North Korea. I hope someone up there is keeping track of events outside their world. I think they'll have a fair chance to get back on soccer's international stage, if they start planning now.

Including Germany, the host country, 14 tickets went to Europe, 5 to Africa, 4 to South Amercia, 3.5 to North America, 4.5 to Asia and, for the first time, 1 to Oceania.

Soccer fans in Australia and the New Zealand must be celebrating, because one of the countries is sure to get the Oceania slot. New Zealand is ranked 49th by FIFA and Australia 50th; the other teams in the region are no better than 100th -- the next best team is Tahiti, at 113th. Though New Zealand is ranked a notch higher, Australia is the better team.

The last time anyone from this region made it to the big show was in 1982, when New Zealand did it. Australia made it through the Oceania qualifying rounds in '94, '98 and '02, but lost all its playoff matches.

But Korea and Australia share some common World Cup history.

The only time the Aussies played in the World Cup was 1974, and they beat Korea to get there. In 1973, both countries were in the Asian region and fighting for its only ticket. First the two teams met in Sydney, where the game ended in a scoreless draw. At the second match, in Seoul, Korea managed to put the ball into the Aussie net twice, but the Aussies rallied to come back and tie the game. The final match took place in neutral Hong Kong, by FIFA's decision, and by a score of 1-0 Australia sailed off to its first World Cup appearance.

Call it a Sports View hunch, but I have a feeling our guys will get a chance to get revenge on the Aussies in Germany.

by Brian Lee

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