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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK

Sport: Football

World Cup battle kicks off

The new Wembley stadium is the centrepiece of England's bid

The battle for the right to host the 2006 World Cup officially begins in Switzerland on Monday, when the five bidding coutries formally present their case before Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

South Africa begin the race for the world's biggest sporting event with a 30-minute presentation followed by Morocco and England.

On Tuesday, Brazil and Germany will complete the campaign launch.

Although there are five entrants, most are convinced it will be a three-horse race between South Africa, Germany and England.

Sir Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final, has joined Sir Bobby Charlton and Michael Owen to present England's case.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "We feel we have got a very strong bid.

"We hosted Euro 96, which was trouble free, we have a new Wembley being built and our grounds are safe. But you expect strong competition."

SA in pole position

Blatter has made no secret of his desire to be the first man to bring the World Cup to Africa and South Africa are banking on former president Nelson Mandela to sway the 24 Fifa executive committee members who will decide the winner next summer.

But South Africa knows it faces a tough task to convince Fifa members that it will be able to meet all the standards set down.

The most bitter battle is likely to be fought out between Germany and England, however.

German football officials are still smarting over the fact that England put a bid at all, claiming that a gentlemen's agreement between themselves and English football officials - which gave England the European Championships in 1996 - has not been honoured

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is closely linked to England's bid and former sports minister Tony Banks has been appointed a special ambassador for the bidding committee.

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