FOOTBALL: Double blow to England's 2006 bid

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ENGLAND'S HOPES of staging the 2006 World Cup suffered two serious setbacks yesterday. Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, world football's governing body, told Prime Minister Tony Blair - who has been drafted in as a figurehead for the England bid - that Africa was the "logical" choice for the tournament. The German football association then revealed that - should an African country fail to meet the criteria for hosting the competition - its own bid to stage the tournament would have the influential support of Uefa, European football's governing body.

Blatter, who was invited to London by the Prime Minister, spent 45 minutes in Downing Street with Mr Blair and football officials behind the England bid. While campaigning in June for the Fifa presidency, Blatter had said he would like to see the 2006 event take place in Africa. He emerged from yesterday's meeting and said: "I have just confirmed to the Prime Minister that I have not changed the attitude I had when I campaigned for president.

"I repeated to the Prime Minister that if an African national association can meet all the conditions for hosting the World Cup - stadia, systems of transport, telecommunications, security, hotels and so on - then it would be logical to give the 2006 World Cup to an African country."

He added that following the 1994 World Cup in the United States, the 1998 tournament in France, and the 2002 World Cup to be shared between South Korea and Japan, an African tournament would fit in with Fifa's rotational system.

England, South Africa and Germany are regarded as the main contenders to host the tournament, although Blatter said he also expects bids from Brazil, Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt. The deadline for detailed bids to be submitted is July next year. Fifa inspection teams will then visit the contenders and a final decision will be made in March 2000 after a vote by the 24-member Fifa committee.

Blatter added: "I know we will get a very strong, professional bid from England," but would not be drawn on which country he would favour should South Africa - the only African bidder with a realistic chance of hosting the tournament - fail to provide assurances that it is up to the job.

While Tony Banks, the minister for sport, was proclaiming that the contest was now a two-horse race - "I believe it is now between us and South Africa" - and the England campaign director, Alec McGivan, was talking up his politically supported plans - "I have no doubt at all that we are the strongest candidate in what we can offer Fifa" - the German football association said it was completely confident of securing the tournament if South Africa failed.

Wolfgang Niersbach, a German FA spokesman, said Lennart Johansson, the president of Uefa, European football's governing body, had been in Germany last week and promised that Europe's share of the 24 Fifa committee votes would not be going England's way. "The eight votes will go to Germany," Niersbach said. "Johansson said he asked the Uefa committee in Lisbon recently [whether voting for Germany was still their intention] and they didn't change their mind."

Niersbach added the German government was firmly behind its country's bid and had promised funding for facilities, including stadiums and infrastructure in what used to be East Germany.

No guarantees as Blair

woos Blatter, page 28