Football: Germans are afraid of us, says Sir Bobby

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SIR BOBBY CHARLTON last night accused his old adversary Franz Beckenbauer of trying to score political points in a bid to undermine England's bid to secure the vote to stage the 2006 World Cup.

Beckenbauer has once again raised the issue of the so-called ``gentleman's agreement" in which England are alleged to have promised their support to Germany if, in return, that country backed the Euro 96 campaign. "He keeps going on about it and he should forget it," Sir Bobby said. "It's taken a lot of time arguing the case."

Speaking at the Football Expo trade fair in Cannes, Sir Bobby also declared that England's World Cup 2006 rivals were "afraid" of the English bid. "We have no divine right [to stage the tournament]," said Sir Bobby, "but what we have are safe grounds, no fences, and no major police presence."

Despite having staged Euro 96, he stressed, England had not hosted the world's premier football competition since 1966, when he and his team- mates won the tournament. "I hear things from our rivals, from Germany and South Africa, about why the World Cup should not come to England," said Sir Bobby. "But the one thing that is consistent is that every time a statement comes out from one of our competitors about the World Cup, they invariably mention England. Why is that? It is because they are afraid of us. They respect the strength of our bid for the things that we can offer."

Sir Geoff Hurst, the hat-trick hero of the 1966 World Cup final and the English campaign team's other leading ambassador, welcomed the sale of Wembley stadium and said the rebuilding of it would be a key milestone in the campaign."Wembley is one of the cornerstones of our very strong bid," Sir Geoff told an informal press conference. "The latest news is marvellous."

He also expressed complete confidence that the recent resignations of the Football Association chairman, Keith Wiseman, and the chief executive, Graham Kelly, would have no bearing whatsoever on the English bid. "The bid is not about one or two personalities," he said. "It's about a strong team making a bid for the country as a whole. I see it as a small bump on a long, tough road. We've almost forgotten about it already."

Sir Bobby agreed. "It does not affect the bid one iota in the context of the world and that's the opinion of the Fifa [world governing body]delegates who matter," he said.

Beckenbauer, who is also in Cannes promoting the German bid, agreed it was time to stop invoking the gentleman's agreement, brokered by Sir Bert Millichip and Uefa officials when Millichip was in charge of the FA. "The English have a new leadership and it is all in the past now," Beckenbauer said. The president of the German campaign team had earlier said he was surprised that the English FA continued to try to ignore the accord that was struck by senior members of Uefa, the European governing body. "We did not count on the candidature of the English," said Beckenbauer, Germany's former World Cup captain and manager. "We supported England to get the European Championship in 1996 so we expected support from them for the World Cup. We were a little disappointed."

Beckenbauer was photographed alongside Sir Bobby, his rival ambassador in the English camp. He said the two remained good friends despite their respective tasks in the race to stage the 2006 tournament. "The last time I saw Bobby was at the Manchester United-Bayern Munich game," Beckenbauer said. "We often meet. I like him very much. He's doing his job and I'm doing mine which is how it should be."

Beckenbauer, respected throughout the game, was magnanimous when it came to England's qualifications to stage the World Cup. "In my opinion, England and Germany has an equal chance," he said. "We, like them, can offer everything. I can't say which is the best because ultimately it's not up to me. It's for the Fifa executive committee to decide."

Beckenbauer hinted strongly, however, that South Africa was still the favourite provided they could persuade Fifa they could provide a sophisticated enough infrastructure, something the English campaign team severely doubts.

"The next logical step is for the World Cup to go to South Africa," Beckenbauer said. "The question is, is Africa ready?"