International Football Federation (FIFA) president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter says he is very pleased with the overall organization of the 17th World Cup, the first to be co-hosted and the first to be held in Asia. During a 30-minute news conference here in Yokohama, Mr. Blatter said the quality of football during the World Cup's first 48 matches has been excellent. And he gave high marks to the organizers in Japan and South Korea.
"FIFA is very happy to have this competition now in this co-hosting situation," he said. "And you realize with a little bit of goodwill, and a little bit of acceptance everywhere, there are no problems in such a co-hosting situation. And I'm happy about that. The decision to play in Asia, in my opinion, was the right decision."
Shortly after saying there have been no problems, though, the FIFA chief admitted there have been problems with World Cup ticket sales. During some of the first round matches, large sections of empty seats could be seen in stadiums in both Japan and South Korea. Mr. Blatter said FIFA plans to investigate the ticketing situation, and hopes to have improvements in place for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Mr. Blatter thanked the Japanese and Korean organizers, and said they have helped create a wonderful ambience for football's premier event. He also commented on the importance of the Korean and Japanese teams both qualifying for the second round.
"It is always welcome in all FIFA competitions, and especially in the World Cup, when the organizing associations, in this case there are two, are passing over the hurdles of the first round," he said. "This will create a wonderful atmosphere. I think we have to say the two teams of Korea and of Japan, they have qualified on merit. They are both winning their groups. And they have prepared themselves for months and months for this event. They have home games, obviously, and it's important not just for the two countries, but for Asia and the whole football world. It is so important that they are still in the competition and they have been leading their groups."
The FIFA president said the success in the first round of the Korean and Japanese teams, as well as others like Senegal and the United States, shows that the gap has narrowed dramatically between newcomers and traditional football powers. Defending champion France and two-time champion Argentina were both eliminated in the first round. In Mr. Blatter's words, "there are no more weak teams."