France lie in wait for England

ENGLAND could face heavyweights France in the group stages of next summer&rsquo;s World Cup after governing body Fifa whipped up controversy with their seedings for tomorrow&rsquo;s draw.<br /><br />Fabio Capello&rsquo;s men were confirmed yesterday as one of the top eight teams at the tournament, meaning they will avoid favourites Spain and Brazil at the first hurdle.<br /><br />But they could face Portugal, who boast World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo and knocked England out of the last two major tournaments, or, surprisingly, France.<br /><br />Les Bleus were expected to be seeded instead of Holland, only for Fifa to change their criteria without warning, meaning Raymond Domenech&rsquo;s men miss out.<br /><br />The decision raised suspicions that France were being punished for qualifying for the finals with a now-infamous handball goal in last month&rsquo;s play-off with the Republic of Ireland.<br /><br />But Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke denied the 2008 winners had been deliberately excluded, insisting the new formula &ldquo;most closely represented the best teams in the tournament&rdquo;. &ldquo;We made the decision last month,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;This is not a case of wanting Holland or any other country to be seeded instead of France.&rdquo;<br /><br />Under the old system, derived from world rankings and previous performances, France would have been seeded instead of Holland. <br /><br />But Fifa instead decided to base the seeding solely on world rankings. And to avoid favouring teams who took part in last month&rsquo;s play-offs, and therefore earned more ranking points, they used October&rsquo;s standings.<br /><br />It is not the first time in recent months that Fifa has walked into a seedings storm. Fifa were accused of deliberately favouring larger nations, including France, when they announced on the eve of the play-off draw that it would, in fact, be seeded. <br /><br />Meanwhile, Fifa yesterday warned Diego Maradona that he would not be welcome at the draw. <br /><br />The Argentina coach was last month handed a two-month ban for launching a foul-mouthed tirade at reporters folllowing his side&rsquo;s qualification for the tournament.