Europe's 53 soccer nations hold summit

Updated: September 20, 2011, 5:15 PM ET
Associated Press

GENEVA -- Europe's 53 soccer countries will have the future and popularity of their national teams at the top of the agenda at a two-day summit meeting in Cyprus.

UEFA member federations are under pressure from influential clubs to play fewer matches by scrapping some international exhibition dates and cutting the size of qualifying groups for the World Cup and European Championship.

Federation presidents and chief executives also will meet Europe's eight representatives on FIFA's 24-man executive committee four weeks before FIFA president Sepp Blatter unveils his detailed anti-corruption reforms to clean up world soccer.

First, UEFA president Michel Platini wants the brainstorming session in Limassol to help set priorities for his second four-year term, which he secured unopposed by acclaim last March.

"I wanted to have the opportunity to reflect and to discuss with all the 53 member associations on the core issues affecting the future of European football," Platini said in a statement. "These two days are an excellent time to discuss openly, in a relaxed manner, around subjects like youth and women football, or the development of national teams competitions."

Platini is focusing on international soccer after he made reforming the club game the main goal of his busy first term.

The former France great pushed through "financial fair play" rules to curb club spending, helped create and fund the European Club Association, which has often challenged Blatter's authority, and revamped the Champions League and Europa League competitions.

Clubs made wealthier and more powerful by the Champions League also resent handing over their players for national team exhibitions, and want June and August dates scrapped.

Europe's federations are largely funded by the national team and want Platini to boost its status and secure their financial future. For this, they have handed UEFA centralized control of commercial rights to their qualifiers in hopes of getting a better deal.

At Platini's request, UEFA also expanded the 16-nation European Championship to 24 teams from Euro 2016 onward. Yet many commentators fear more teams means less drama in qualifying and poorer quality at the final tournament.

The future of Olympic soccer -- another source of club vs. country conflict -- is also up for discussion in Cyprus.

UEFA and most clubs prefer a tournament for under-21 players, but FIFA has bowed to International Olympic Committee pressure to keep eligibility open to older, higher-profile players.

Platini is currently favored to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2015, and his position on world soccer issues is being watched.

UEFA and FIFA are united in protecting their legal authority to run the sport, and recent challenges in civil courts by Swiss club FC Sion are likely to be noted as a warning sign on the sidelines of the Cyprus summit.

Platini is scheduled to sum up the progress at the two-day meeting after a subsequent meeting of the UEFA executive committee ends Friday.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press