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Michel Platini opts out of election fight against Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency

FILE - In this Feb.22, 2014 file photo, UEFA President Michel Platini arrives at a press conference, one day prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying draw in Nice, southeastern France. Michel Platini will not challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency, saying Thursday Aug.28, 2014 there was

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FILE - In this Feb.22, 2014 file photo, UEFA President Michel Platini arrives at a press conference, one day prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying draw in Nice, southeastern France. Michel Platini will not challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency, saying Thursday Aug.28, 2014 there was "no shadow of doubt" about his decision. The former France great was expected to avoid a contest against Blatter after a successful World Cup strengthened the FIFA president's position. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

MONACO, Monaco - Michel Platini won't fight Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency, though he still hopes somebody will.

The UEFA president decided Thursday not to challenge Blatter in an election next May, insisting he was not dodging a battle with his former mentor.

Platini denied FIFA critics a potentially bitter contest, but then urged more conflict within the Blatter-led executive committee.

His decision, which was expected, leaves the 78-year-old Blatter clear to win a fifth presidential term — possibly unopposed for a third straight time.

Platini will focus instead on being re-elected to lead European football in March and a probable FIFA candidacy in 2019.

"Now is not my time, not yet," the 59-year-old Platini said at a news conference after meeting leaders of Europe's 54 football federations. "I hope that somebody will oppose Mr. Blatter and nobody will oppose me for UEFA."

Platini, a FIFA vice-president, then challenged his colleagues to be "braver" standing up to Blatter's power.

"To bring ideas and want to change things and not just be sheep who always say yes," Platini said through a translator.

The former France great seemed likely to avoid a FIFA contest after a successful World Cup strengthened Blatter's position as president, which he has held since 1998.

Blatter already has support from FIFA's other five continental confederations. Leaders of most of the 209 member countries have shown little desire for change as successful World Cups have raised FIFA cash reserves close to $1.5 billion.

Platini dismissed one description of a contest against Blatter as "unwinnable."

"No, my choice was not based on who was running," said Platini, who recalled beating another longtime sitting president, Lennart Johansson, for the UEFA job in 2007. "So I can't be accused of being afraid of Mr. Blatter."

UEFA members were meeting for the first time since they confronted Blatter in Brazil in June over his style of leadership and alleged corruption implicating FIFA. They also reminded the veteran Swiss official of his 2011 promise to step aside after his current mandate.

That hostile encounter in Sao Paulo on the eve of the World Cup fueled speculation of a FIFA challenge by Platini or a senior UEFA nominee.

"We went for peace. I think it is the logical decision," Iceland football association president Geir Thorsteinsson told The Associated Press on Thursday.

In Brazil, one option emerged for UEFA to put Netherlands federation president Michael van Praag as a candidate after he delivered Europe's blunt message to Blatter.

Van Praag dismissed that option Thursday.

"It won't be me," the UEFA board member told the BBC. "There was no backing because (UEFA members) also believe that if our candidate is not being Michel Platini, he won't have any chance at all."

Platini opting out could prompt another candidate to launch a challenge, Van Praag suggested.

"Now it is known that he doesn't do it so maybe there is somebody else in the world who thinks, 'Now I have a chance,'" the Dutchman said.

Platini said he would "support him or her that will bring something new to world football and will defend the interests of European football."

"I know some of you were expecting me to attack FIFA but that is not my goal here," Platini said. "Quite obviously we want a FIFA that works better, more transparency, more solidarity and more respected by those that love football."

Platini, whose campaigning for Blatter in 1998 helped defeat Johansson for the vacant presidency, now questioned the integrity of the FIFA president's public statements.

"I'm not sure he always believes what he says," Platini said, referring to Blatter's recent support for video replay, coaches' challenges of referee decisions and additional substitutes in extra time. "I think deep down he is against all that."

FIFA has set a late-January deadline for candidates to declare for the secret ballot scheduled for May 29 in Zurich. Former FIFA international relations director Jerome Champagne has said he will stand, though acknowledged in January he could not beat his former boss and longtime ally.

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