The Republic of Ireland have made one last stand to play in next year's World Cup finals by asking FIFA to allow them in as a 33rd nation following their controversial play-off defeat to France.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter yesterday revealed that the case will be discussed at tomorrow's extraordinary executive committee meeting in Cape Town, but gave a broad hint that it will be turned down.
The Republic lost to an extra-time goal when Thierry Henry infamously handled the ball twice before William Gallas' equaliser.
FIFA have already ruled out a replay but Blatter said the matter is not quite over.
“I will bring it to the attention of the executive committee,” said Blatter, who also suggested that two extra officials would be considered for the finals in South Africa. Tomorrow's meeting takes place 48 hours before the draw for the 2010 finals and a day before the seeding system is announced.
FIFA have little or no room for manoeuvre but Blatter said his organisation had a duty to respond to a last-gasp FAI appeal.
Speaking at the Soccerex conference in Johannesburg, Blatter said: “We received a delegation from Ireland in Zurich on Friday and they were naturally absolutely unhappy at what has happened.
“They have not asked for any sanctions but have asked, very humbly, whether they could be team number 33 at the World Cup.”
That was greeted with laughter from some delegates and journalists present and it seems Ireland's plea will be politely turned down. Including them as a 33rd finalist would be unprecedented and serve as a dangerous precedent, as Blatter acknowledged.
“I will bring it to the attention of the executive committee but if we do that, we will also have to bring in Costa Rica,” Blatter said.
Costa Rica believe they too were denied a place in South Africa unfairly, feeling a goal scored by Uruguay in their own play-off was offside, and Blatter's tone suggested it was inconceivable FIFA would add any more countries to the 32-team finals.
An FAI statement read: “A lot was discussed at the meeting and at one stage the FAI asked if Ireland could be accommodated into the World Cup 2010.
“Other suggestions were also made to mitigate against further occurrences of such incidents, including the use of additional goalline assistant referees for FIFA international matches, further use of video technology for matches at the highest level, stronger provisions to discourage players from engaging in such blatant breaches of the Laws of the Game and provisions to strengthen referee selection for such important matches.”
Qualification formats and match control are the main items on the agenda for tomorrow and the play-off system seems certain to come under intense scrutiny.
“In one match it is decided if you are in or out and this is not the spirit behind this World Cup,” said Blatter.
He also hinted that FIFA might turn the experiment of using two extra officials, one behind each goal — currently being trialled in the Europa League — into law in time for the World Cup.
“It's possible but we have to see if it is feasible or realistic. Something has to be done in terms of match control,” he said.
If tomorrow’s meeting gives the green light for any rule change, it will have to go before the International FA Board next March for formal approval, although technically anything could be agreed in principle beforehand.