Football: Contenders to stage the World Cup? Tomorrow it could be Malta

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ON Wednesday he met Tony Blair and said his "personal wish" was that England should be given it. Three months ago he told South Africa they had only to ask for it, while the Germans say they were promised it five years ago.

The right to stage the 2006 World Cup is not quite within the personal gift of Joao Havelange, but countries usually expect the president of Fifa, football's governing body, to give a fair indication of which way the wind is blowing. Yesterday, however, the cynics were pouring scorn on the 81-year-old Brazilian.

"You cannot take him seriously any longer," Wolfgang Niersbach, a spokesman for the German football federation, said. "I don't know where he's going next, but if it's Malta then he'll say Malta should stage the World Cup."

Lennart Johansson, the president of Uefa, the European game's ruling body, called Havelange "a dictator" and said he was "endangering his life's work".

Johansson said he had been present in 1993 when Havelange promised the 2006 competition to Germany. He also said that other European nations - including England - had agreed to support the German bid. "If the English suddenly cannot remember their word of honour, then as Uefa president I am powerless," he said.