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South America set to keep marathon qualifying format

ASUNCION, May 2 (Reuters) - South America is to ask FIFA for permission to keep its controversial World Cup qualifying format in which the 10 teams play each other home and away in a single group.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in 2004 that soccer's ruling body would no longer accept the system.

Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira repeatedly criticised the system as the 2006 qualifiers took more than two years to play and European clubs were also unhappy with the schedule.

However, the South American Football Confederation said all its member nations had agreed they wanted to use the format for the qualifiers for the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

'The 10 presidents have come to an agreement,' general secretary Eduardo Deluca told reporters on Monday night. 'All we need is FIFA's authoritisation.'

Unlike Europe, South America does not have a qualifying competition for its own continental championship, the Copa America, and the smaller nations say the current system gives them more competitive games.

Deluca said he believed FIFA could be persuaded to execute an about-turn.

'With the representatives we have today on the FIFA executive committee and the force that they have, the authorisation is possible,' said Deluca.

'As long as we don't use more dates than have been allocated in the international calendar, they (the European clubs) won't have any reason to oppose us.'