JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ FIFA president Sepp Blatter on apologized to South Africans on Friday for the controversial vote in which they lost to Germany for the right stage the 2006 World Cup.

Germany won the vote of FIFA's executive committee 12-11 when Charles Dempsey of New Zealand abstained in the final ballot. Dempsey had been instructed by the Oceania Football Confederation to support South Africa after England's bid failed and if the vote had tied 12-12, Blatter would have broken the tie in favor of South Africa.

``I would like to apologize to the South African people, President Thabo Mbeki and the great man Nelson Mandela for what happened regarding the 2006 World Cup bid,'' Blatter said.

``You have won credibility and the respect of the world and you did not lose because you were not competitive enough, but because of the imbalance within the 24 member FIFA committee.''

South Africa immediately became the favorite to stage the 2010 tournament.