KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH: Sepp Blatter and Prince Ali both met delegates from central and north America here today as the FIFA presidential candidates talked their way down the back straight leading to the congress election tape on Friday.

Tradition dictates that all of the world’s six regional confederations stage mini-congresses of the world football federation’s main event which is being staged in Zurich on Friday.

In days gone by . . . Prince Ali and Blatter

Hence CONCACAF met today with the African confederation (CAF) and South America (CONMEBOL) staging their own conferences tomorrow next followed by Europe (UEFA) on Thursday.

The CONCACAF event was neatly stage-managed so that Blatter and Prince Ali did not cross paths on their separate ways in and out of the Renaissance Hotel.

Blatter paused briefly, on the way out, to refute a label of ‘dictatorship’ from failed challenger Luis Figo. He said: “Luis Figo is free to say what he wants to say. He is a free man, he is a footballer. I have received so many titles but I still have the title of FIFA president at least until six o’clock on Friday.”

Future perfect?

In fact two of the six confederations will not be hearing from either candidate until their keynotes addresses to congress on Friday. Two had cancelled their mini congresses: one was Oceania and the other was the Asian Football Confederation.

AFC leaders may have considered a meeting unwarranted after the recent election congress. In any case cancellation avoided any embarrassment over maintaining declared formal support for incumbent Blatter to the detriment of one of its own in Prince Ali bin Al Hussein who, as well as challenging the Swiss 79-year-old, is president of the Jordanian federation.

Already, however, many delegates were looking beyond Friday and to the first meeting of the post-congress FIFA executive committee on Saturday morning with nine new members*. Their main task will be to review the share of slots for finalists at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

To this end alliances are crucial as the rest of the world seeks to chip away at Europe’s dominance. Thus CONCACAF and the Asian confederation have signed a memorandum of understanding “to strengthen and increase the degree of co-operation and dialogue between the two organisations.”

Doubtless World Cup slots would have been at the back of the minds of both presidents, Jeffrey Webb and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

For Brazil last year the qualifying slots were divided thus:

Africa: five

Asia: Four and a half

CONCACAF: Three and a half

Europe: 13

Oceania: half

South America: five and a half (including hosts Brazil)

If FIFA decided on a radical changes for Russia in 2018 it would be a surprise, given that the qualifying competition has already begun though one switch is inevitable: Europe would expect to take up an extra host slot (Russia) instead of South America (Brazil).

A shuffling  of the intercontinental play-off options is possible though clearly there is far greater room for manoeuvre for 2022 when South America will find itself under pressure to concede a ‘lucky loser’ play-off slot to CONCACAF.

Hence the value of greater mutual support around the executive committee table.

*New exco members:

Africa: Tarek Bouchamaoui (Tunisia), Constant Omari (DR Congo)

Asia (AFC): Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah (Kuwait), Crown Prince Tengku Abdullah (Malaysia), Kohzo Tashima (Japan)

Central/North America (CONCACAF): Eduardo Li (Costa Rica).

Europe (UEFA): David Gill (England), Wolfgang Niersbach  (Germany)

South America: Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay)