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Blatter hints at staying on as FIFA president

FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter addresses the media during a news conference in Havana April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa
FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter addresses the media during a news conference in Havana April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

By Patrick Johnston

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter again hinted he plans to stand for another four-year term as the head of world soccer during a speech to AFC delegates in which he called for more World Cup places for Asian teams.

The 77-year-old Swiss, speaking at the Asian Football Confederation Congress in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, was discussing his reform plans before he appeared to reveal he was not going to quit the presidency in two years time.

"This will be the last term of, not of office, the last term of the reform," Blatter said, smiling as he delivered the message.

Blatter went on to describe that the reform period, brought in to clean up the scandal-hit body that has seen members routinely banned on graft charges, would end in 2015.

The Swiss ignored reporters' requests to clarify his position after the Congress.

Blatter had previously said he planned to step down from office at the end of his latest four-year term in 2015 but opened up a loophole in March by adding that was providing he could find someone to carry on his legacy.

UEFA president Michel Platini, who watched on Thursday as Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain won the AFC presidential election in a landslide, has long been tipped to replace Blatter.

Sheikh Salman said he was grateful for the backing Blatter had given the AFC and said he would reciprocate should the Swiss choose to stay on.

"If he announces, of course," Sheikh Salman told reporters.

"He has always been a supporter of Asian football and if he can fulfill and continue as a president of course I'll support him."

WORLD CUP PLACES

Blatter also questioned the logic of Platini's European confederation having so many World Cup places in what could be seen as a campaign for votes in Asia.

"We have to start to see the access to the World Cup, the access to the World Cup should be a little bit better balanced," Blatter said.

"In 2014 in Brazil 32 teams, one has qualified from South America (Brazil as hosts) and then you have 13 teams from one of the continents, which is Europe, and possibly five more from South America," Blatter said.

"If this happens then you have 19 out of 32, there is no chance to kick them out before one of them is in the semi-finals. This is the law of the numbers.

"We shall have a look on this, you should have a look on that and bring such items on the agenda because we should have a better balance."

Asia has four guaranteed places at the next World Cup in Brazil with a fifth possible if another side beats a South American team in an intercontinental playoff.

Sheikh Salman, also head of the Bahrain Football Association, welcomed talk about more places for Asia. His country has never qualified for a World Cup finals and were denied a place at the 2010 tournament when they were beaten by New Zealand in a playoff.

"I think it has to be looked at, it has to be studied," he told reporters after the congress.

"We have to look at the future and the interest of Asian teams and national associations. The teams have progressed very well in the last few years and I hope we can earn more seats at the World Cup."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Amlan Chakraborty)

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