Football: Anglo-German tension rises over 2006 bid

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The debate between England and Germany over who should bid to stage the 2006 World Cup is growing more vociferous. While the Football Association insisted yesterday that England are leading the race to stage the tournament, the German authorities maintained that they should be the sole European bidders. Mark Pierson reports.

There is plenty of lobbying still to be done, but Alec McGivan, director of the campaign to bring the 2006 World Cup to England, was in confident mood yesterday.

"People are beginning to become more receptive to our bid," he claimed. "It's fair to say there was some antagonism 12 months ago, but that's now been replaced by friendly smiles.

"We have answered all the questions needed in our proposal. We have the total support of the Government as well as the whole UK sporting community. Our bid was in place first, our stadiums are ready and the game in this country is thriving. We are the front runners and the team to beat."

England and Germany are the only confirmed candidates, although bids are also expected from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Peru.

Uefa, the European game's ruling body, has been keen to put forward only one candidate and the German football federation, DFB, yesterday reiterated its belief that Germany should be the sole bidders. Wolfgand Niersbach, a DFB spokesman, said that Germany would have more support because there was an agreement that England would host the European Championship in 1996 and Germany would be Europe's sole candidate for the 2006 World Cup. The Football Association has denied that Uefa has agreed on any such policy.

"The English may not like it," Niersbach said. "It's regrettable if you abandon an agreement or contest that it existed, but that's the way it is."

Niersbach, who said that he believed his country had "the better arguments and the better cards when it comes to the World Cup bid", added that he hoped England and Germany could come to an agreement in the second half of this year.

There have also been suggestions - endorsed recently by the former German captain and coach Franz Beckenbauer - that England and Germany could co- host the tournament. Japan and South Korea will jointly stage the 2002 World Cup.

McGivan said that the FA would oppose any such plan but was prepared to discuss it if asked to do so by Fifa, the world game's governing body.

McGivan also dismissed as "pure politics" the recent comments apparently in support of a South African bid by Joao Havelange, Fifa's president, and Lennart Johansson, his counterpart at Uefa. Both men are playing key roles in the current race to elect a new Fifa president.

"It doesn't concern me at all," McGivan said. "Only last week we received a letter from Dr Havelange praising England's bid and the ever-improving facilities in this country. Fifa secretary general Sepp Blatter has also been very positive about our campaign."

Meanwhile preparations continue for England's build-up to this year's World Cup finals in France. The organisers of the King Hassad II tournament in May in Morocco yesterday announced a playing schedule for the competition, although England have still to reach a final agreement on their participation.

England are set to launch the tournament against Morocco on 27 May. Two days later Glenn Hoddle's team are lined up to play Belgium. The matches will be played in the 70,000-capacity Mohammed V Stadium in Rabat.