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Football lobbyists descend on Zurich ahead of World Cup vote

Brazil's withdrawal leaves South Africa as favourite to host the 2006 World Cup

Leading figures from the world of sport and politics are converging on Zurich ahead of Thursday's vote by football's governing body, Fifa, on which country will host the 2006 World Cup. South Africa appears current favourite.

Officials representing the four remaining candidates – South Africa, Germany, England and Morocco – are taking part in final presentations to the 24-member Fifa executive committee.

The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, is paying a brief visit to Zurich to support Germany’s bid.

South Africa has emerged as the firm favourite to host the World Cup, despite worries about security and infrastructure. It would be the first African nation to host the prestigious and lucrative competition.

South Africa’s position was strengthened after Brazil pulled out of the race on Monday. Brazil has reportedly agreed to throw its weight behind the South African candidacy in return for African support if Brazil decides to bid for the 2010 World Cup.

The Swiss president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter, is also known to favour an African venue for the 2006 World Cup. He will announce the verdict on Thursday after what is likely to be several rounds of voting by the executive committee.

Germany, which is endorsed by the European football governing body, Uefa, is expected to finish second on the ballot, despite the efforts of Franz Beckenbauer and his delegation.

England mounted a major campaign to host the World Cup, but the issue of hooliganism and the behaviour of fans during the recent European Championships are expected to count against it.

Morocco’s chances of winning the bid are also thought to be small.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR