ENGLAND could face heavyweights France in the group stages of next summer’s World Cup after governing body Fifa whipped up controversy with their seedings for tomorrow’s draw.<br /><br />Fabio Capello’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’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’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 “most closely represented the best teams in the tournament”. “We made the decision last month,” he added. “This is not a case of wanting Holland or any other country to be seeded instead of France.”<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’s play-offs, and therefore earned more ranking points, they used October’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’s qualification for the tournament.