England take heart from Putin input

England believe they are in with a real chance of a shock victory in today's Fifa vote for the 2018 World Cup hosting rights after a pronouncement by Vladimir Putin looked to have caused serious damage to rivals Russia.

• Sheika Moza bin Nasset Al-Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar, is welcomed by Fifa Secretary General Jerome Valcke. Picture: AP

They now look to be neck-and-neck with Spain/Portugal, although bid leaders accept there is still much uncertainty surrounding the secret ballot of the 22 Fifa executive committee members.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Holland/Belgium are also in the running, though they are very much the outsiders.

The scenario of England facing Spain/Portugal in the final round of voting has been backed up by the Iberian bid's chief executive Miguel Angel Lopez.

Lopez said: "We are confident, we are not certain. We think we will win, we have eight votes for sure and it looks like it will be against England in the final round."

Russian prime minister Putin's announcement that he will not be travelling to Zurich was accompanied by an apparent attack on British media investigations into Fifa.

Putin's absence will be in stark contrast to the activities of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been in Zurich since Tuesday, along with Prince William and David Beckham meeting Fifa members.

• Pitch invasion after Birmingham derby taints England World Cup bid

Cameron even flew back to London for Prime Minister's Questions before returning to Switzerland yesterday for more last-minute lobbying, while Prince William finished one meeting after midnight on Tuesday before having breakfast yesterday morning with Nicolas Leoz.

The meeting shows England 2018's determination to overcome any backlash from the Panorama programme - Leoz was one of the three Fifa members accused by the BBC programme of taking bribes in the 1990s.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

England's hopes that the lobbying has paid dividends has been intensified by Putin's remarks. Putin said: "We have watched with disappointment as an obvious campaign was being unleashed against members of the Fifa executive committee.

"They are being dragged through the mud and smeared. I interpret this as unfair competition.

We believe that such methods of competition are entirely unacceptable.

"Under these circumstances, I think it would be best not to go out of respect for the members of the Fifa executive committee, so that they could make their decision in peace and without any outside pressure."

England will have William, Cameron and Beckham as part of their five-man team for this morning's bid presentation, along with bid chief executive Andy Anson and Eddie Afekafe, a bid ambassador who works with a Manchester City community football programme.

Sports minister Hugh Robertson believes the lobbying and presentations will have an effect in later rounds of voting when the bid with the fewest votes are eliminated.

Robertson said: "If you get your lobbying right over the three days beforehand, and you get your presentation right, then you have a genuine chance of moving those second and third preference votes. That's going to be the key to winning."

Sebastian Coe, who negotiated London's successful 2012 Olympic bid, is a 2018 board member and has been advising England on tactics.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Coe said: "There were IOC delegates who said to me after the vote in Singapore that they thought they were voting one way, and they actually shifted their ground during the presentations.

"I think it can happen here. There may well be ExCo members who think they are absolutely fixed in their view, and this is where they are going to go but a really strong presentation, with a really clear message and some emotional appeal can make a difference."

Spain/Portugal are likely to win the first round of voting, but England's strategy is to secure enough support to stay in the running and pick up the votes when Holland/Belgium are eliminated. Putin's decision has increased confidence that England can now secure enough second-round votes to get past Russia.