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Dutch football association chief Michael van Praag to challenge Blatter for FIFA presidency

01/26/2015 02:10 EST | Updated 03/28/2015 05:59 EDT
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - In the biggest challenge yet to Sepp Blatter, Dutch football association leader Michael van Praag entered the FIFA presidential election race on Monday.

Van Praag became the first would-be Blatter opponent to announce he has the required nominations from five of FIFA's 209 member federations.

"It's widely known that I'm very worried about FIFA," Van Praag said in a statement. Last June, he told Blatter in Brazil that "people tend not to take you very seriously anymore."

"People link FIFA to corruption and bribery and all kinds of old boys' networks," Van Praag told reporters in Sao Paulo last June after he and other senior European football officials confronted Blatter at a UEFA meeting.

The Netherlands association said in a statement that Van Praag will send his official candidacy letter along with five declarations of support from unnamed federations to FIFA headquarters on Tuesday. The entry deadline is Thursday, four months ahead of the May 29 ballot.

Van Praag's campaign was launched after he revealed the plan to his UEFA executive committee colleagues at a meeting in Nyon, Switzerland.

Still, UEFA is not formally endorsing Van Praag as its candidate despite its open hostility toward Blatter.

"There is no candidate of UEFA, as a matter of fact," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said at a post-meeting news conference. "What we provide at UEFA is a platform for everyone to express (his) view. It is certainly positive for football that there is more than one candidate."

UEFA and its president Michel Platini — who last August opted out of a contest against his former mentor Blatter — have also encouraged FIFA Vice-President Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan to stand.

Prince Ali announced his intention to stand three weeks ago but has not revealed his five supporting nations.

However, Van Praag took an apparent swipe at the prince in his statement.

"For quite some time, I was hoping that another credible challenger would put himself forward, but that simply has not happened," said the former president of four-time European champion Ajax.

Other potential candidates include longtime Blatter ally Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA international relations director, and former France player David Ginola.

Blatter, who has led FIFA since 1998, is the overwhelming favourite to get a fifth presidential term.

The 78-year-old FIFA chief stoked tensions with UEFA in an interview aired by CNN ahead of Platini's board meeting Monday.

Blatter goaded UEFA by saying it led opposition to him but "they don't have the courage to come in" the election fight.

The 67-year-old Van Praag, a respected figure whose family led Ajax to dominate European football in the early-1970s, has long been seen as the most likely European to take on Blatter.

He has called a news conference Wednesday at the Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, which was his club's home in its heyday.

"One should not confine oneself to words," Van Praag said in the Dutch FA statement, "but follow them up with deeds and decisiveness, which is why I now announce my candidacy."

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Nyon, Switzerland, contributed to this report

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