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BERNE (Reuters) - FIFA will make one of its most politically sensitive decisions next week when soccer's governing body decides how many places each continent will get at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.
With South America hoping for an extra spot, CONCACAF demanding a fourth guaranteed place and Asia refusing to settle for anything less than the four-and-a-half berths it had in 2010, the stage is set for a heated two-day session when its executive committee meets in Zurich on March 2-3.
The continental confederations have been jockeying for position ahead of the decision on the 31 available World Cup places, Brazil qualifying automatically as hosts.
Asia Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam said last month that his region wanted at least the four-and-a-half places it had in South Africa.
Australia, North Korea, South Korea and Japan represented Asia in 2010 while Bahrain lost in a playoff to New Zealand, winners of the Oceania qualifying tournament.
Jack Warner, president of the CONCACAF confederation representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, has said his region wants its quota increased to four direct places.
CONCACAF had three guaranteed spots in South Africa last year and Costa Rica lost to Uruguay in a playoff for another place.
"We believe that CONCACAF deserves another full place at the World Cup finals due to the performances of our teams on the field and the actions of our confederation off it," said Warner.
"We are unified in our efforts to make this happen."
South America is hoping that hosts Brazil will not be included in their quota of four-and-a-half places for 2014, effectively giving the 10-team continent an extra place.
Africa had six teams at the 2010 World Cup including hosts South Africa and look almost certain to lose one slot, especially as five of their teams fell at the first hurdle last year.
Europe had 13 teams at the 2010 World Cup, of which seven were eliminated in the group stage and two made it to the final, while Oceania had half a place.
The subject has always been a thorny one and erupted in 2003 when FIFA back-tracked on a promise to give an automatic spot to Oceania, which at the time included Australia.
The Oceania delegation stormed out of the meeting when FIFA's executive committee decided to keep the system under which the top Oceania team would face the fifth-placed South American side.
Oceania later won the argument on the field when Australia beat Uruguay in a playoff for a place at the 2006 World Cup.
Australia's subsequent move to the Asian confederation scuppered Oceania's hopes for a direct place although the region's winners last time faced the easier task of playing Asia's fifth team, rather than South America's, in a two-leg playoff.
Editing by Mike Collett