Football: Russia, Qatar triumph at World Cup vote

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The Independent Online

Russia and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups Thursday after an acrimonious bidding war marred by allegations of corruption and illegal deal-making.

In a historic conclusion to two years of frenzied lobbying, world football supremo Sepp Blatter revealed the winners following a secret ballot of 22 FIFA executive committee members in Zurich.

The announcement means the World Cup will be staged in two countries which have never hosted the event before following the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Russia prevailed in the 2018 race, upsetting England - who were knocked out in the first round of voting after mustering a mere two votes - and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands.

The outcome represented a stunning comeback for Russia, whose campaign had believed to be in trouble after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declined to join the lobbying effort in Zurich.

Putin, who was to travel to Switzerland later Thursday to congratulate FIFA, had also launched a stinging attack on England's bid on the eve of the vote, accusing the country's media of "smearing" officials.

Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov said FIFA would not regret handing the sporting showpiece to his country after being presented with the World Cup by Blatter.

"You have entrusted us with the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and I can promise, we all can promise, you will never regret it," Shuvalov said.

"Let us make history together."

But the shock of the day came in the 2022 race, where Qatar beat off stiff competition from the United States, Australia and Asian rivals South Korea and Japan in a remarkable result.

Qatar 2022 bid president Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani said his country's victory had defied the odds.

"We started off being written off, being the unconventional bid. And no-one thought we had a chance to win," he said.

"On behalf of millions living in the Middle East, thank you FIFA for having such bold vision. We have a date with history which is summer 2022."

Qatar's win came despite serious reservations being raised about the logistical problems of staging the football tournament in the Gulf during the searing heat of the summer months.

Although the Qataris have promised to build an array of state of the art stadia which are climate-controlled, the technology has never been tested on a large-scale before.

Al-Thani dismissed concerns about the climate as "misconceptions" however.

"One of the most important misconceptions was that Qatar cannot do it because it is too hot," he said.

The results brought the curtain down on one of the most controversial World Cup votes in years, with FIFA facing myriad allegations of corruption which led to two executive committee members being suspended.

FIFA president Blatter has acknowledged that the decision to stage votes for two tournaments at the same time was a mistake, making illegal horse-trading between bids inevitable.

An increasingly acrimonious climax to the campaign saw Spanish and Russian officials issue veiled attacks on England earlier Thursday as the respective bids made their final presentations to FIFA voters.

Spanish FIFA member Angel Villar Llona attacked British media reports which exposed corruption within the organisation, describing them as "slander."

Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also hit out at perceived "intrigue and blackmail" surrounding the vote.

England 2018 officials declined to respond to the criticism, but were left dejected after launching a heavyweight, increasingly optimistic lobbying offensive led by Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William and football icon David Beckham.

"According to FIFA we had the best technical team, no one could identify any risks of coming to England. I think we had the strongest commercial bid and the country is passionate about football," Cameron told reporters.

"But it turns out that's not enough."

Beckham later expressed his disappointment Thursday after the defeat, as it emerged that England had been eliminated in the first round, a humiliating setback.

"I think the bid team have done everything possible, we couldn't have got a better bid," Beckham told BBC radio.

"It's obviously hard to not come away with the World Cup in 2018 but a lot of congratulations have to go to the team, a lot of hard work has been done."

Former England captain Alan Shearer struck a gloomy note, wondering if the World Cup would ever return to England having last been held there in 1966.