Putin's absence boosts English World Cup hopes

England will go into today's FIFA vote to decide the 2018 World Cup hosts as genuine contenders.

England now look to be neck-and-neck with Spain/Portugal after Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's amazing speech in which he announced he would not travel to Zurich for the vote. Holland/Belgium are also bidding but are viewed as the outsiders in the secret ballot of the 22 FIFA executive committee members.

The Iberian bid's chief executive Miguel Angel Lopez said: "We think will win, we have eight votes for sure and it looks like it will be against England in the final round." Putin's announcement that he will not be travelling to Zurich was accompanied by an apparent attack on British media investigations of FIFA. 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.

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"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."