England stall over World Cup base

Uncertainty as state of 2010 training pitches is still giving cause for concern
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The Independent Online

The Football Association will have to submit its first-choice World Cup base to Fifa tomorrow still unsure whether the training pitches at Royal Bafokeng sports campus will be ready for Fabio Capello's squad when it arrives in South Africa in June.

While the English FA is still hedging its bets over the Royal Bafokeng, tomorrow is the deadline for competing nations to tell Fifa their top-three choices and the deadline for signing a contract is 31 January. Although the FA is hopeful that its difficult circumstances will persuade Fifa to give it an extension on that January deadline, the uncertainty over Royal Bafokeng contrasts with the settled plans of many other competing nations.

This week, the Royal Bafokeng sports campus, near the city of Rustenburg in North-West Province, released photographs of their pitches which were of such concern to Capello when he made a surprise visit there on 2 December. The pictures were intended to show that the grass is growing but the negotiations between the two sides over the terms of the contract are likely to continue well into next year.

The building of the Royal Bafokeng sports campus is not yet completed although it should be ready long before the pitches can be trained on. As for the players' families, it is expected that the arrangements for their accommodation will be left with 1966, the company that negotiates the England players' commercial deals and win bonuses with the FA.

Around a year ago all nations who had a chance of qualification were given a list of 55 potential bases all over South Africa that had been approved by Fifa and their competition services provider, Match. However, it has become a fraught scramble for the best locations and some of the more recently qualified nations, including New Zealand, are now looking at resorts that are not on the original Fifa list.

France will confirm tomorrow that they will be staying at the Pezula Hotel and Spa in the Western Cape town of Knysna on the tourist Garden Route. The Pezula was one of England's early shortlist choices and a spokesman for the resort confirmed that a delegation from the FA looked around earlier in the year. However, Capello's stipulation that England's camp should be at altitude appears to have ruled it out of contention.

The High Performance Centre at Pretoria University was also on the Capello shortlist but that was taken by the Argentina Football Association who will submit it as their first-choice preference tomorrow. It is unclear how Fifa operated its first-come, first-served policy with so many countries angling for the same locations and the governing body said this week it will not make any announcements until after tomorrow.

Other sought-after bases have been over-subscribed. Both Germany and the Netherlands wanted the Kloofzicht Lodge, a trout fishing resort 45 minutes west of Johannesburg. However, those two famous football nations were beaten to it by Australia who were the second nation to qualify for the tournament. Having been the last qualifiers for the 2006 tournament, and the last to have a pick of training grounds, Football Federation Australia did not want to miss out on this occasion.

The Netherlands are one of the few teams to stay in a city centre; Bert van Marwijk's squad will take the Hilton Sandton in Johannesburg and train at the Wits University campus. The German national team have announced their intention to stay at the Velmore Grand hotel in Pretoria. Their contracts are all in place to be signed before the Fifa deadline.

Spain, Paraguay, Uruguay, Japan and Denmark have also made firm announcements on where they are going to be based next summer. The Japan Football Association picked the Fancourt Hotel and Country Club in the city of George on the Garden Route because it was the same place that the Japanese women's golf team won the World Cup of golf in 2005.

55

The number of Fifa-approved bases for World Cup teams to choose from.

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