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Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 16:20 GMT

Sport: Football

FIFA favours African bid

President Mandela receives FIFA's Order of Merit award

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has given another firm indication that he favours Africa as the venue for the 2006 World Cup finals.

He received the Order of Good Hope - South Africa's highest award for foreigners - in a ceremony at national president Nelson Mandela's home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton on Thursday.

"Mr Blatter played a vital role in South Africa's readmission to world football. Through his intervention, FIFA deviated from their constitutional requirements and provided South Africa with immediate full membership in 1992," the president said.

Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria are also considering bids for the tournament, but the Confederation of African Football says it will unite behind a single candidate and South Africa is a clear favourite.

"I am fighting for the World Cup of 2006 to come to Africa," Blatter said afterwards. "I told him 'I will support the best African bid' and he understood what I meant."

The deadline for bids is July 31 next year, with FIFA making a decision on which country will stage the finals in March 2000.

South Africa faces the challenge of putting the necessary infrastructure in place, with fears that the country does not have enough quality stadia to stage the finals.

England is also in the running for the 2006 finals and already has 16 stadia on FIFA's approved category A list.

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