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Clash averted over FIFA's 18-club leagues plan

STRASBOURG, France, Sept 7 (Reuters) - A possible clash between soccer's world governing body FIFA and Europe's top leagues over plans to cut them to 18 clubs next year was averted following a meeting of both sides on Thursday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter's idea to reduce numbers from the start of the 2007-08 season was endorsed at a FIFA Congress in June and immediately sparked a row between Blatter and the leagues in countries such as England, Spain and Italy.

However, after initially threatening to fight Blatter over the issue, the leagues - represented by the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) - have decided to work with FIFA to find a solution after being told the decision was not binding.

'FIFA has stated that an imposition for leagues to reduce to 18 clubs does not exist,' the EPFL said in a faxed statement to Reuters.

'It is rather an open discussion being considered by a FIFA task force within the context of a review of the international match calendar.'

The EPFL added that they had accepted an offer by FIFA to have a representative on the task force. It is the first time that this has happened.

Blatter attended the meeting in Zurich along with FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi with the EPFL represented by its general manager Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros.

England, Spain, France and Italy all have 20 teams in their top divisions and Blatter believes a cut would free up more dates in the international calendar as well as reduce fixture congestion and the number of matches footballers would have to play.

But according to the EPFL, the clubs affected would lose the revenue from two home matches while there would also be less top division matches available for TV. The lower divisions in every country would also have to be expanded or re-configured.

FIFA believes that through its national associations, it does have the right to take this decision and tell the leagues how to organise themselves.