Putin turns on England as 2018 race goes to wire

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, made a late attempt yesterday to derail England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals by implying that the English had broken Fifa rules by "smearing" the governing body's executive committee (ExCo), which will make its decision today.

In a strongly worded statement, Putin did not mention directly the BBC Panorama documentary broadcast on Monday but claimed that an "obvious campaign" against Fifa "constituted unfair competition during the run-up to the voting to decide which country will host the World Football Championship [sic] in 2018".

Putin announced he would not be travelling to Zurich today to lobby members of the ExCo to vote for Russia who, along with the Spain-Portugal bid, are the biggest rivals to England. With the Prime Minister, David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham all in Zurich for the English bid, Putin's absence will deprive Russia of their star name.

There was confusion last night as to whether Putin's decision represented an acknowledgment from Russia that they could not win or whether it was a tactical ploy to remind the ExCo of the severity of the allegations made against four of its members by Panorama. Putin said that all heads of state should follow his lead and stay away from Zurich to allow the ExCo "to make the decision objectively without any pressure from the outside".

After a final day of lobbying in which Prince William met Nicolas Leoz, the Paraguayan ExCo member who was named as one of three alleged bribe-takers in the Panorama programme, the English bid team were confident that they would be in contention for today's vote, which will be announced at around 3pm, English time.

Beckham and Prince William left the Baur au Lac Hotel last night before midnight. After the last of their meetings with ExCo members, there was dismay expressed by the FA over the violence at Birmingham in the Carling Cup quarter-final but it is not anticipated that it will have any effect on the bid.

Beckham, one of the five who will present England's bid today at Fifa House outside Zurich, said that it was England's "time", explaining: "I am confident we have put up the best bid and the best presentation possible. There is not much more that could have been done now. We have worked hard and put ourselves in a great position and keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

"You all know the expectation in our country is always high and so it should be. We have one of the biggest and best leagues in the world. We have the most passionate fans, we have the expectancy of a whole nation behind us and they want this more than anyone. You do feel that expectation, you do feel that pressure but it's a good pressure to have.

"Everyone involved in our country believes we should have this World Cup because of how good our league is, the players and facilities we have. So not to get it would be unbelievably disappointing.

"Even [Fifa] president [Sepp] Blatter said we are one of the only countries that, if we had to stage the World Cup tomorrow, we would be able to do it. We can only tell people how ready we are and it is down to other people to vote for us."

Beckham will deliver England's final presentation today along with Cameron, Prince William, the chief executive of the bid, Andy Anson, and Eddie Afekafe, a 27-year-old community worker for Manchester City who will represent the power that the bid believes English football has to effect social change.

The themes for the presentation will be an English World Cup as a "festival of football"; "football hosting football" to demonstrate the English expertise in staging big games and the bid's claim to have the biggest "global legacy" of any World Cup finals in history. The 2012 London Olympics organising committee's Lord Coe, who is on the board of the 2018 bid, said that "five Oscar performances" were required.

Coe said that the English bid could not rely on the fact that it has been 44 years since the last World Cup was held in the country, or that Spain staged the tournament as recently as 1982, as a likely factor in the minds of the ExCo. He said: "You've got to remember that there may be some members who think they have settled it already, but we know from Singapore [in 2005 when London won the 2012 Olympics bidding] that was not the case. People thought they had made their minds up when they went into the hall but shifted their views as the bids went on."