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New Confederation Cup dates are worse than the first.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Friday, November 20, 1998) -- What a mess FIFA is causing trying to find dates to hold the Confederations Cup competition in Mexico.

Originally scheduled to take place from January 8-20, the tournament fell apart after most of the major European professional leagues jointly refused to release players for three weeks at what would be the height of their seasons, and a group of the seven most powerful national associations backed them up.

France then backed out of the tournament saying that could not field a competitive squad absent almost every first division player in Europe. Brazil said it could field a team using only domestic players, but was unhappy about doing so. Then when FIFA, the world governing body, could not find a top European country willing to replace France -- reportedly both Germany and Croatia said no -- they agreed to postponement.

The United States was due to play in a division with France, Brazil and New Zealand. Now, in a decision made on Tuesday, FIFA has officially postponed the competition to July 28-August 8. When the announcement was made, officials of French professional league LNF let out a collective shriek. If anything the new dates are worse than the original.

As part of an agreement heading off the proposed Super League, UEFA has agreed to an expanded 32-team European Champions' League. This will require more matches, and to accommodate this expanded schedule most of the big European leagues will start their seasons as much as a month earlier than this year. Thus the new Confederation Cup dates will directly conflict with the start of the new season in Europe.

Noel Le Graet, president of the French league (LNF), said: "A competition canít take place on those dates, itís a question of the calendar. Our championship is due to start on July 28. In other countries, too, the start has been brought forward. With the reform of the Championsí League and numerous extra matches, itís even quite grotesque."

The new dates also give Major League Soccer Commissioner Doug Logan a major case of heartburn. Logan has been insistent that MLS cannot afford to lose all its national team players again this season, as it did last season for the World Cup. He was able to strong arm U.S. Soccer in declining an invitation to the Copa America for this reason.

Now, if the Confederation Cup goes in July-August, he will lose not only his American national team players but also Boliviaís and Mexicoís. Plus, the Latins will play Copa America.

We probably have not heard the last of this. The July-August dates must still be ratified by FIFAís executive committee in its December meeting. By the way, has anyone told FIFA how warm it is in Mexico City in early August?

With the postponement of the competition now official, the United States Soccer Federation is going to have to scramble to find at least two international matches to play in January. National team coach Bruce Arena says he will go ahead with plans top hold a two- to three-week camp starting immediately after New Years and including as many of the U.S.ís European players as possible. Now they have to find some matches to play before the Germany match now scheduled for February 6 in Florida.

Speaking of UEFA, you might not have seen that this week, at a meeting in a Madrid casino (how appropriate), Europe's leading 14 football clubs agreed to spurn any offers to join a Super League and to accept UEFA's proposals for a 32-team European Champions' League. But the so-called "G-14 Clubs," warned that further negotiations were needed on financial matters, particularly the share-out of TV revenues expected to be about $587 million.

A committee composed of the managers of five clubs -- AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Olympique Marseille, Porto and Real Madrid -- was created to work on the fine-tuning of the deal with UEFA. Others at the meeting included Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester United, Paris St Germain and PSV Eindhoven.

Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at

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