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By ESPN Staff

Blatter praises Platini but falls short of full support

PARIS, Jan 12 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressed his 'sympathy' for Michel Platini's attempt to become the next president of UEFA on Friday, but stopped short of declaring his full support for the Frenchman.

Platini, 51, is standing against the incumbent Lennart Johansson, 77, in a two-way fight for the presidency which will be decided by a vote of UEFA's 52-member associations at its Congress in Duesseldorf on Jan. 26.

Blatter, who will be 71 in March, has also endorsed Johansson's candidature during the run-up to the election, but again hinted he thought Johansson was too old to seek a fourth term as president. The Swede has held the position since 1990.

'When you play soccer there comes an age when you are not capable of playing any longer,' Blatter said at a news conference marking the official opening of the French Football Federation's new headquarters where he was the guest of honour.

All three men were present at the ceremonial opening of the new offices on Boulevard de Grenelle in Paris on Thursday, but Johansson was not at the news conference on Friday.

Blatter said: 'If you ask me to choose between a football player and a director, my sympathy will go to the player.'

He continued: 'Michel and I created the slogan 'Football for all and all for football' back in 1998 and I'm not ashamed to say that I have sympathy for him.'

Trying to maintain as diplomatic a balancing act as possible, Blatter, who does not have a vote in the election, said that it was not up to him to arbitrate 'the match between Johansson and Platini.'

Platini, the former French captain, who was Blatter's personal advisor from 1998 to 2002, the year he became a member of both the UEFA and FIFA executive committees, welcomed the FIFA president's remarks.

'I am pleased that he sees me as a reliable candidate for the UEFA presidency,' Platini told reporters after the press conference. Although he is a vice-president of the French federation, he was not on the speakers' podium.

'Mr Blatter is a man of great experience. He has tried to make people understand a certain number of things even if he has to remain impartial,' he added.

Platini admitted he was getting more and more cautious as the day of the poll approached.

'There are about 20 federation presidents who have not clearly said who they will support,' Platini said.

'I really don't know what's going to happen. I can't tell you if I'm going to win or lose.'