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By ESPN Staff

Johansson, Platini prepare for close vote

DUESSELDORF, Jan 25 (Reuters) - UEFA presidential candidates Lennart Johansson and Michel Platini were putting the finishing touches to their campaigns as delegates gathered for the start of the 31st UEFA Congress.

Johansson, 77, who has been president of European soccer's governing body since 1990, is facing the first challenge to his position since being elected at the UEFA Congress in Malta nearly 17 years ago.

Both men are confident they have enough votes to win the nomination which will be decided by whoever polls a straight majority of the 52 voting national presidents at Duesseldorf's Congress Centre on Friday morning.

Johansson's camp said on Wednesday they were confident of victory, boldly claiming they had secured votes from 36 national associations.

Platini's camp laughed off those figures and said they were also confident of winning.

The main difference in the campaigns has been Platini's promise to limit the number of Champions League places to three per country and open the competition up to the champions of smaller countries.

Johansson has the backing of major European associations, including Germany and Spain, while Platini is expected to pick up votes from most of eastern Europe.

Most neutral observers agreed the vote was too close to call.

Lars-Ake Lagrell, president of the Swedish Football Association and a strong ally of his compatriot Johansson, said on Thursday: 'Lennart is confident, but I am sure that Michel Platini is just as confident as well.

'But I think most people think that perhaps this is not the time for a change.

'UEFA is a well-oiled machine that is running very efficiently. If Lennart were to lose, then the future becomes uncertain, and I am not sure the delegates want that.'

If Johansson were to lose his seat, the future might also be uncertain for his fellow Swede Lars-Christer Olsson, UEFA's chief executive.

Olsson, who succeeded Gerhard Aigner as chief executive three years ago, would be extremely unlikely to work alongside Platini in the same role, especially as Platini has said that he will move close to UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland and would be expected to assume a more 'executive-style' role of presidency than Johansson's.

Apart from the election of the president, six seats on the UEFA executive committee have fallen vacant with five of the incumbents standing for re-election.

Platini, whose term of office on the committee has ended, is not standing for re-election and if the Frenchman loses the presidential vote his association with UEFA will end.

He still has a seat on the FIFA executive and could well find himself working alongside another former great player on that committee after Friday.

Franz Beckenbauer is expected to be named as one of UEFA's representatives on the FIFA committee.

Among other matters, the Congress will also decide whether to admit Montenegro and Gibraltar as full UEFA members and is also expected to agree to begin a feasibility study into expanding the European championship finals from 16 to 24 teams.