Germany's 2006 bid still in running

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The grim memory of Cape Town's failed Olympic bid was occupying the minds of South Africa's World Cup 2006 bid team as they went uneasily to bed here last night.

The grim memory of Cape Town's failed Olympic bid was occupying the minds of South Africa's World Cup 2006 bid team as they went uneasily to bed here last night.

Just under three years ago the South African city went into the Olympic voting confident that they had secured enough backing to clinch the 2004 Games. However, when Juan Antonio Samaranch announced Athens' victory, Cape Town's delegation were left reeling in their seats, their expected vote having melted away. "We discovered one guy was marked down as a certainty by five different cities," a delegate, now on the SA2006 team, confided recently.

Today South Africa fears a similar collapse after Germany mounted a late challenge yesterday with an impressive presentation at Fifa headquarters and concentrated on lobbying behind the scenes. South Africa remain favourites - with England and Morocco trailing - but they could require the casting vote of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, to take the World Cup to Africa for the first time.

The German bid, which seemed finished when South Africa concluded a deal with Brazil two days ago, is building the sort of momentum their footballers used to create. The destiny of several votes in the secret ballot remain uncertain, especially the second preference of men like New Zealand's Charles Dempsey, the object of much attention yesterday.

South Africa are stressing the emotional element. Gary Bailey, the South African-born former England goalkeeper, noted: "Think of the legacy if the World Cup comes to us? England will invite 12 kids from each country but we will have 125,000 jobs, which will impact on a million kids."

But while this appeals to the vision of football being a catalyst for good put forward by football's world ruling body, Germany's superior infrastructure and safety record is turning heads and both parties know it. It showed in the nervousness of South Africa's morning presentation, and the confidence of Germany's in mid-afternoon.

It also showed in the absence of Nelson Mandela, the charismatic former South African president, and the presence of Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor. Mandela swore after Cape Town's failure that he would never submit himself to such humiliation again and his absence highlighted South African worries.

Schröder was joined on the German platform by the super-model Claudia Schiffer, the former Wimbledon tennis champion Boris Becker, and Günter Netzer, the Germany midfielder turned Swiss television pundit. Rudi Völler, the new caretaker-coach of Germany, was also present.

The presentation revolved, though, around Franz Beckenbauer, Germany's World Cup-winning captain and coach.After a brief video clumsily linking the fall of the Berlin Wall to the power of football to unite, the presentation took on a surreal dimension with a short film called "The nightmares of Franz Beckenbauer". This showed him waking in bed - wearing a suit - with his head encased in a giant football before being chased by a dog into a giant goal net. Now miniaturised, he fell into water full of giant fish before floating away in an air bubble.

It was a bizarre conclusion to a day which had begun with a slick presentation by an England team notably short of high-level political support. The only note that jarred was a short film featuring a Sikh referee and more Asian faces than have been seen in 112 years of English league football.

South Africa's ponderous presentation centred on Danny Jordaan, their campaign head, who wore the nervous look of a man who knew he had more to lose than to gain.

Jordaan is destined to have a sleepless night until Fifa's decision is revealed at 1pm BST on its internet site.