England's bid to host the World Cup finals for the first time in more than half a century received a significant boost yesterday when Fifa's inspection team delivered its verdict at the end of its four-day tour of the country. Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the head of the delegation, labelled numerous parts of the bid as "perfect", with the only doubt raised over the amount of accommodation available.
It contrasts favourably with the six-strong team's statement at the end of last week's tour of Russia – seen as England's main competitors – and the question mark over accommodation, claims Andy Anson, the bid's chief executive, is just a technicality that will soon be resolved. The inspectors' next stop is Spain and Portugal on Monday before they compile their report on all bidders for the 2018 finals – Belgium/Netherlands and the United States are the other contenders – for Fifa's executive committee (Ex-Co). The 24 members will select the hosts on 2 December.
The report will be for the Ex-Co members' eyes only, but Mayne-Nicholls' closing statements in Manchester yesterday, after a trip that also took in London and the North-east, offered a glowing conclusion that will heighten English optimism.
"All the needs and objectives of our visit were met and we are positive that the World Cup in England in 2018 would be a great experience with a long-lasting legacy for the country and its people, as well as for football worldwide," said Mayne-Nicholls. "The concept you are coming up with that every single participating team will be hosted by a domestic professional team makes perfect sense to us. It will guarantee that all the teams will be able to practise in perfect conditions.
"Concerning public transportation and event facilities, there seems to be no problem in hosting an event of such scope. This also counts for safety and security matters. One thing Fifa are particularly focused on is accommodation as we need a very high number of quality rooms."
Mayne-Nicholls even described the quality of pitches at the visited grounds as "world-class", which must have invoked sighs of relief, if not surprise, around Wembley. "They have organised the visit in a perfect way, with great professionalism, but also with a sense of friendship and hospitality," summed up the Chilean.
There had been concerns in the wake of Vladimir Putin's typically dynamic contribution to the Russian inspection that David Cameron's absence might prove harmful, especially given Fifa's sky-high self-regard. In that sense, the birth of the Prime Minister's daughter proved somewhat timely. "Fifa is a family too and we fully understand why he could not be with us – the Prime Minister took the right decision," said Mayne-Nicholls.
Putin received lavish praise from Mayne-Nicholls last week but he also warned as to the amount of work Russia needs to undertake. At present theirs is very much a paper bid. By comparison much of the England's is already there in bricks and mortar, although Sepp Blatter has regularly talked up the Russians and Fifa's president is a man used to getting his way. "You cannot deny Russia if they bid for something," he said this week.
England are now odds-on favourites with bookmakers, but many observers still regard Russia as being in pole position in the complicated world of global football politics. In the three months before decision day there will be frantic behind-the-scenes efforts to win round as many of the Ex-Co members as possible at events such as the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge in October. The actual structure of the vote will not be determined until the next Ex-Co meeting, also in October, but England are believed to be currently favoured by the Asian bloc led by Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, while they also have healthy support among the African delegates. There are some familiar names among the two dozen, including Blatter, Jack Warner, Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer. And some not so familiar, such as Reynald Temarii of Tahiti and Thailand's Worawi Makudi, the man who appointed Peter Reid as his nation's manager.
"We've got to go and convince them that this is the strongest bid, hopefully they'll see that and hopefully on 2 December they'll vote for us," said Anson. "I think it's really convincing them that our case is the strongest."
Most positive comments:
"They have organised the visit in a perfect way, with great professionalism... friendship and hospitality."
"We are positive that the World Cup in England would be a great experience."
"One thing Fifa are particularly focused on is accommodation as we need a very high number of quality rooms. We trust that you will be able to fulfil the necessary requirements."
Most positive comments:
"We were impressed by the Prime Minister's level of interest and knowledge of the bid and football in general."
"We would like to emphasise that if the World Cup goes to Russia work would need to start immediately to guarantee that everything will be in place on time."Reuse content