Football: Major launches 2006 quest

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday officially launched England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup finals - with the full support of some of English finest footballers.

Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Bobby Charlton, Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney all said they totally supported the attempt to bring the World Cup back to England 40 years after the country last hosted the finals in 1966.

The Prime Minister, addressing a reception at No 10 Downing Street, said: "I believe it will be magnificently done and our facilities will be the equal of any in the world by then. There is no doubt about the desire of the British public to support the competition here."

A key element of the English bid is the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium, and the Prime Minister added: "The Twin Towers will remain but the rest of Wembley will be a magnificent stadium."

Sir Stanley Matthews, who played in the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cups, said: "I think it is very important for the future of the game in England. It seems to me that Germany has got their bid in first but I'm hoping that won't make a difference, because there are still a few years to go before a decision is made. I think our stadiums are as good now or better than theirs or anyone else's in the world and we can more than match anyone's bid."

Finney, who played alongside Matthews for England in the 1950s, added: "We fell behind the rest of the world in the 1970s and 1980s but have come back strongly in the last few years. We might not have won the European Championship last year, but the country won in terms of the atmosphere and the way the nation got behind the team."

England and Germany are just two of the countries bidding to host the finals in nine years time, with rival bids expected from South Africa, Australia, Morocco and Egypt - and perhaps joint bids from Brazil/Argentina and Peru/Ecuador.

All bids must be submitted by the end of 1999 with the decision announced by Fifa, world football's governing body, in June 2000. Earlier this month Uefa, European football's governing body, announced it was giving its support to Germany's bid, and Lennart Johansson, the Uefa president, hinted on Tuesday that he would still back Germany's bid. "I know what decision I made and I know who was there," he said.