- Associated Press - Friday, May 18, 2018

GENEVA (AP) - France soccer great Michel Platini insists “a little trickery” in the 1998 World Cup draw ensured his home country would avoid playing Brazil until the final which it won in Paris.

Not so, according to Sepp Blatter, who as FIFA’s then CEO-like general secretary conducted the draw in Marseille in December 1997.

Almost 20 years after France hosted and won the World Cup, the two men who organized it recalled very differently Friday if Les Bleus were helped by a fixed draw to dodge playing defending champion Brazil for as long as possible.

“When we organized the calendar, we did a little trickery,” Platini, who led the French organizing committee for several years, told radio station France Bleu.

Platini said it ensured France and Brazil would be in opposite halves of the knockout draw if each won its group.

Indeed, Brazil was top-seeded in Group A - by rights as the 1994 World Cup winner - and France was placed in Group C before the draw. Both did top their groups and advanced to the final won 3-0 by France.

Blatter, however, explained Friday this was standard FIFA practice before and after 1998 to prepare the draw like this - setting up a potential dream final between host and defending champion.

“This is absolutely normal what has been done,” Blatter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, recalling the fifth and final World Cup he prepared as FIFA’s top administrator before becoming president.

“I am very surprised that Platini came out and said this. There was not any ‘magouille,’” said Blatter, citing the French word used by Platini which can also imply corruption. “There is nothing strange.”

Platini’s comments Friday suggesting he was involved in underhand behavior seemed unusual after almost three years of defending his name from allegations of financial misconduct.

FIFA’s ethics committee banned Platini and Blatter in 2015 though both vigorously denied wrongdoing.

Blatter authorized FIFA in 2011 to pay Platini $2 million in non-contracted salary for his work as a presidential adviser begun after the 1998 World Cup through 2002. The case also involved pension contributions requested by Platini which he was not entitled to, and could have paid him more than $1 million.

Blatter told the AP that French media was asking Friday of Platini “Why the hell do you say this now?”

The 2006 World Cup was the last time that the defending champion was pre-allocated to a group in the draw. At the 2010 World Cup draw, host South Africa was sure to be in Group A and defending champion Italy entered the draw with the other seven top-seeded nations.

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