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By ESPN Staff

S America retains gruelling WC qualifying

ASUNCION, Dec 7 (Reuters) - FIFA have decided to allow South America to keep its controversial World Cup qualifying tournament in which the 10 teams take part in a single group and play each other twice.

The South American Football Confederation (CSF) said on its Web site that FIFA had agreed at Wednesday's executive committee meeting in Zurich to allow the marathon competition to continue.

'The South American qualifiers will get under way in September and October of 2007,' it said.

The region has used the system for the last three World Cup qualifying competitions despite protests from European clubs, who are forced to release their South American players for the games.

The clubs complain that the players are worn out by the constant transatlantic travel.

Two years ago, FIFA president Sepp Blatter told reporters that his federation would no longer accept the system. Since then, there has been intense lobbying by South American officials for the system to be retained.

The CSF said the dates would follow the international calender and would be in pairs so that players would effectively have to make only nine transatlantic journeys over a period of two years.

The South Americans have also argued that they effectively play fewer competitive internationals than in Europe as there is no qualifying competiton for the Copa America.

The CSF said that the top four teams would qualify directly for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa while the fifth will play off for another place with the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF region.

This is a change from the previous two World Cups when the fifth team played off with the winners of the Oceania region.

Uruguay met Australia on both occasions with Uruguay qualifying for the 2002 World Cup and Australia coming out on top in 2006.