Football: World Cup bidders rebuff thug threat

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S 2006 World Cup bid team are confident that their dream will not be shattered by hooliganism at next summer's European Championship finals.

Fears have been raised that England and Germany will rule themselves out of contention to host the 2006 tournament if violence mars their Euro 2000 tie in Charleroi, Belgium, next summer.

However, the England 2006 spokesman, Roger Kelly, said the people who matter will acknowledge the enormous efforts already made by English football to rid itself of the hooligan problem. Kelly said: "The success of the Government and English football over the last few years in tackling this problem has been tremendous and has been recognised by [football's world body] Fifa.

"Sepp Blatter [Fifa's president] has been very complimentary about the efforts made on this matter. England against Scotland in the Euro 2000 play-off was a very big event that went off without problems. Of course, it would help us if the European Championship were trouble-free but the energy and effort put into beating these problems has been phenomenal. People around the world acknowledge this fact. The people who will cast their votes for the World Cup hosts are aware and certainly Fifa understand this."

Kelly spoke after comments from the Euro 2000 director, Alain Courtois, suggested English thugs could blow their country's World Cup hopes by rampaging through the Low Countries next summer.

A potential flashpoint is England's group game against Germany. The two nations are fierce rivals on the field and are also competing to stage the 2006 World Cup. Violent scenes in Charleroi, when they meet in June, could hand the 2006 World Cup to South Africa.

Courtois said: "England and Germany have already said they don't want any problems because they are candidates for 2006. They have to justify their candidature."