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Platini prepares to say if he will challenge mentor Blatter in FIFA presidential contest

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GENEVA - Michel Platini is set to announce Thursday if he will challenge former mentor Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency.

The UEFA president will meet the leaders of his 54 member federations at the Champions League draw in Monaco before holding a news conference to explain his decision.

"He will present his plan and they will give him their feedback," UEFA spokesman Pedro Pinto told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "It is always his policy to consult the national associations before making a big decision."

Platini is the long-time favourite to succeed Blatter, but would have a daunting task to unseat a rival who turns 79 before election day next May.

Blatter has led FIFA since 1998 and a successful, profitable World Cup only boosted his standing with football officials who show little desire for change.

Five of FIFA's six continental bodies already supported Blatter's expected candidacy at pre-tournament meetings in Brazil. Europe alone publicly opposed him.

Platini said then that FIFA "needs a breath of fresh air."

"In the future I won't support Blatter anymore. I've told him that," Platini said on the eve of the World Cup in Sao Paulo.

Still, Blatter appeared confident and relishing a contest this month when he called out critics he did not identify.

"Don't speak — go out and fight," Blatter said at an annual event for his charity foundation in Switzerland. "And I am happy to fight. But if you take the risk (to be in the election) you also have the chance to lose."

Blatter has yet to formally declare his candidacy with FIFA setting a January deadline. The May 29 election is a secret ballot of FIFA's 209 member countries in Zurich.

Now 59, Platini seemed the natural heir to Blatter when the former France great was re-elected by acclaim to lead UEFA in March 2011.

Blatter had a front-row seat then in Paris, and had earlier assured European officials he would leave FIFA if they helped elect him to a final four-year term.

Blatter has steadily shifted from that pledge, provoking senior UEFA officials to urge him in Brazil to step aside.

After a hostile meeting in Sao Paulo, Netherlands federation president Michael van Praag emerged as a possible UEFA-backed alternative to Platini.

Platini has been rewarded for patience before. He won the UEFA presidency in 2007, in a close-fought vote against Lennart Johansson, after deciding not to challenge the longtime incumbent from Sweden in 2002.

Speaking in May, Johansson told the AP he thought Platini might wait to seek the FIFA role.

"I think he will do it one day but not now," Johansson said, adding that his successor as UEFA president "is happy to be in charge of the biggest confederation."

Also in Monaco, soccer politics involving Crimea and Qatar will be discussed on the sidelines.

Delegates from Russia and Ukraine will seek talks on a dispute over clubs from the Crimea region which threatens to provoke disciplinary action from UEFA and FIFA.

Russian football authorities have tried to integrate the lower-tier clubs in their competitions without authority from UEFA, which refuses to recognize matches already played.

UEFA could yet suspend Russian teams, including CSKA Moscow from the Champions League. The Crimean issue is complicated by Russia's status as 2018 World Cup host because FIFA has rules prohibiting government interference in football decisions.

European club delegates meeting this week hope to influence future FIFA-led talks on a calendar for national team matches after the 2018 World Cup through the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

FIFA's executive committee is expected to decide next March that the 2022 tournament must kick off in November, forcing European club competitions to change their traditional schedules for up to three seasons.

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