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BLATTER PRAISES RESERVE TEAM COPA AMERICA

Blatter praised the way the tournament had been staged by host nation Colombia, where security fears had left it in doubt until the last minute.

“I want to congratulate Colombia for its efforts…and also President (Andres) Pastrana for his courage in organising the tournament which, despite some difficulties, was successful,” Blatter told Reuters in an interview.

The competition went ahead after months of dithering by the South American Football Confederation (CSF) ended in a farcical week of decisions and counter-decisions.

The CSF first decided to hold the tournament elsewhere, then reinstated Colombia as hosts but postponed the competition until 2002 and then, amid general incredulity, announced it would go ahead on the planned dates.

The final decision, which came just six days before the start of the tournament and prompted Argentina, who disbanded their team and sent their players on holiday after earlier hearing the Copa would be played next year, to pull out.

But even before the confusion, most countries, including Colombia, had decided to field reserve teams, saving their top players for the World Cup qualifying competition.

Only Ecuador, Costa Rica and Venezuela fielded full-strength sides, repeating a tendency which has already hit earlier tournaments as the Copa struggles to keep its prestige in an increasingly crowded international fixture list.

“Naturally the decisions about whether to play or not affected the tournament, but the sport was stronger than those challenges,” said Blatter, who was in Peru to inaugurate a youth sports centre financed by FIFA.

“The Copa America is a tournament that in my opinion has been very successful, and has attracted many people…with interesting matches and a few surprises,” he added.

Blatter will also visit Ecuador and then Colombia, where he will watch Sunday’s final between the hosts and Mexico.

Reuters