But while officials at Uefa - European football's governing body - admitted that the German bid had been given the nod without formal nomination, discussion, voting or competition, they were adamant that nothing underhand had happened. Support for Germany was only forthcoming, they said, because it was believed no other European country planned to make a bid.
With Britain's tabloid press working itself into the kind of jingoistic frenzy not seen since the heady days of last summer's footballfest, Uefa's admission - and its stated intention not to consider an English bid - will fuel resentment that the Football Association has been "stitched up" by the foreigners.
John Major threw his weight behind the FA's cause, saying an English World Cup could be executed with skill and style. "The last time we played Germany, we lost on penalties," he said. "It was an extremely good game. We were very unlucky to lose. Whether we will lose as far as 2006 is concerned is a long way away." The Prime Minister offered the Government's full support and assigned Iain Sproat, the Sports Minister, to co-ordinate the bid.
Uefa wrote to the FA last night asking for a meeting but it seems unlikely it will withdraw its support for Germany.
Although some newspapers have made much of the influence within Uefa of two Germans, Gerhardt Aigner, the general secretary, and Egidius Braun, vice-president of Uefa's executive committee, the present problems appear to have been caused more by an appalling lack of communication than of double-dealing.
"There are only five countries in Europe capable of hosting the World Cup but three had hosted it too recently and, when we were discussing it, England was tied up with Euro 96," said Frits Ahlstrom, Uefa's media director. "Germany submitted a formal bid to Fifa [the world football governing body] on 1 June 1993, and from that moment onwards, everyone simply assumed that was the only bid.
"Certainly, England never said they were making a bid - we have still not received any formal notification that they plan to. Uefa's official support for Germany is not recorded in any minutes - we have checked - but we ask people to believe us that it was discussed at executive committee meetings and it was taken for granted that Germany's was the only bid. "It was never on the agenda because there was nothing to vote on - there was only one country as far as we knew - so it was not minuted."
Uefa said England's representative, Sir Bert Millichip, former chairman of the FA, was present and would have been aware of the situation. Sir Bert refused to comment yesterday.
Mr Ahlstrom said Sir Bert and Graham Kelly, chief executive of the FA, were party to a decision in Portugal last year in which Uefa suggested to Fifa that only one candidate from each of the four footballing continents should be considered as World Cup hosts. At the time, he said, it was "generally accepted" that Germany was the only European bidder, and Sir Bert knew that.
Uefa's claim not to know of England's intention was rejected by the FA, which said Fifa was told last October that an English bid would be forthcoming.
Fifa said yesterday that Uefa's decision would have no bearing on its choice and that there was nothing to stop an English bid.
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