Football: England bidders close the door on back-room deals

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ALEC McGIVAN, England's World Cup campaign director has ruled out doing any deals to help land the 2006 finals.

Five countries remain in the running to host the event but McGivan insisted that the Football Association would not enter into negotiations with any of the other competing nations. He said: "The days when a few countries could get together in smoke-filled rooms and do a deal are over. We will not be party to anything like that. Football is just too important - the World Cup is too important."

In January, Germany are reported to have approached South Africa offering to help their bid for the 2010 tournament in return for South Africa pulling out and backing the German campaign for 2006.

But McGivan, speaking in Cairo after a meeting with the African Football Confederation, praised all five bidders - South Africa, Germany, Morocco and Brazil. "Having five countries in the bidding process will mean that the rival bidders will be trying harder than ever to ensure that the 2006 World Cup will be the best ever," he said.

Nine months before the start of the European Championship, tickets available to the public are almost sold out.

Organisers of Euro 2000, to be co-hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium, said yesterday they had only 5,000 tickets left for four matches, all to be played in Belgium in June. Public sales started in March with 400,000 tickets available for 31 matches, 99 per cent of which have now been sold.

The Euro 2000 Foundation has recently started "sales meetings" to market 60,000 additional tickets. These will be offered to companies in combination with "luxury arrangements". The prices for these corporate offers vary from 895 guilders (pounds 260) per person for a standard arrangement for one of the group matches to 3,250 guilders for a "super luxury arrangement" for the championship final, to be played on 2 July in Rotterdam.

The latest Fifa World Rankings have produced welcome news for the home nations, with the majority enjoying a significant rise in status despite mixed results of late.

England, who could miss out on Euro 2000 qualification, have climbed two places to 12th in the latest list, surprisingly moving ahead of Portugal and the Netherlands.

Scotland's victory over Bosnia to take them to the brink of earning a play-off chance to reach the finals has brought a rise of four positions to 28th. The Republic of Ireland's sustained bid for automatic qualification has been recognised by a climb of four spots to joint 34th with Turkey, while Northern Ireland are unchanged at 71st. Mark Hughes' Wales were boosted by a leap of eight places to the near respectability of 78th, though they remain behind the likes of Burkino Faso and Honduras.

The Czech Republic, the first team to qualify for Euro 2000, are now second behind Brazil, with the World Cup winners France demoted to third.

FIFA RANKINGS: 1 Brazil 838pts; 2 Czech Republic 772; 3 France 766; 4 Spain 757; 5 Germany 735; 6 Croatia 727; 7 Argentina 717; 8 Italy 714; 9 Norway 712; 10 Mexico and Romania 709. Others: 12 England 683pts; 28 Scotland 606; 34 Republic of Ireland 576; 71 Northern Ireland; 78 Wales 443.