German team not hit by fresh upheaval over Fifa scandal

Wolfgang Niersbach (centre) giving a statement to the media at the DFB headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany on Nov 9, 2015.
Wolfgang Niersbach (centre) giving a statement to the media at the DFB headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany on Nov 9, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUNICH • A 2006 World Cup scandal that has thrown German football into turmoil will not affect the national team as they prepare for internationals against heavyweights France and Netherlands, team manager Oliver Bierhoff said yesterday.

On Monday, German football association (DFB) chief Wolfgang Niersbach resigned, buckling under the weight of unanswered questions over a controversial payment of €6.7 million (S$10.3 million) to football's world governing body Fifa in 2005.

Der Spiegel magazine alleged last month that the money was used to bribe Fifa members and award Germany the 2006 World Cup.

While Niersbach, a vice-president of that tournament, denied any wrongdoing, he could not answer why the payment was made.

Pressure has now increased on Franz Beckenbauer, the World Cup-winning player and coach who headed the 2006 organising committee, to provide answers.

"These have been an intense three weeks for all at the DFB, for the whole of football in Germany," former international Bierhoff told a news conference. "Niersbach was very close to the national team, especially close to players and staff. There is a lot of sympathy for him.

"But it is necessary to close this process at some point and look forward. The players are professionals and they can deal with it.

"The mechanisms work, they have been for a decade, and it does not affect us for the games."

The world champions play France in Paris on Friday before taking on the Netherlands in Hanover on Tuesday.

The awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively too has become controversial in recent months with allegations of corruption. But these are secondary to Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, who yesterday declared that he would expand the World Cup by eight teams to 40 if he is elected Fifa chief.

"I believe in expanding the World Cup based on the experience we had in Europe with the Euros (expanding the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams)," he said.

"Look at qualifiers now where some teams who have never qualified did and some teams which have always qualified didn't make it. So it created a completely new dynamic in the qualification.

"It created new enthusiasm. If you are serious about developing football, it must involve more associations in the best football event in the world: The World Cup."

It would be too soon to swell to 40 teams in Russia in 2018, given that qualifying has already started and it could be problematic for Qatar since the plan is to squeeze the 64 games into 28 days to cope with staging the tournament in November-December 2022 rather than the traditional June-July slot.

But the proposal could help Infantino collect votes from some of the smaller Fifa members outside Europe. "I don't have a European vision," he said.

"I have a vision for football."

Infantino, 45, was picked by European football's governing body Uefa to stand for the Fifa presidential election on Feb 26 after Uefa chief Michael Platini, who had announced his candidature, was provisionally suspended by Fifa pending a probe into a 2011 payment he received from Fifa.

But yesterday the Swiss-Italian made it clear that, if he is elected to lead Fifa, he would not stand down if Platini later wins any appeal.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'German team not hit by fresh upheaval over Fifa scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe