Russia try to put positive spin on Prime Minister's absence

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If Russia comes out the winner in today's vote, the country will face the biggest and most costly preparation work of any host nation in the history of the World Cup. But in today's Russia, where the bite of the financial crisis only briefly dented the fondness for grand projects and stemmed the cash flows from oil and gas, any challenge is seen as surmountable, especially when it has the personal backing of Vladimir Putin.

That the Russian Prime Minister will not appear in person today to charm the Fifa delegates – as he did to such great success with the IOC three years ago to win the Winter Olympics for Sochi – has come as a surprise. There are whispers in the Russian capital that it's possible that the Russian delegation has worked out they don't have the votes to win. The Alpha Dog (as he was referred to in one of the recent American diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks) would not fly into Zurich unless he was fairly confident he could fly out with Fifa's backing.

But in the Russian media, the bid officials have been putting on a positive face, and there is still a cautious optimism that Fifa will pick the country with the most work to do. Vyacheslav Koloskov, the former chairman of the Russian Football Union, said he expected Russia to be awarded the tournament after a final round battle with the joint Spain-Portugal bid, with England eliminated earlier.

Mr Putin's angry statement yesterday alleging "unfair competition" in the run-up to the vote is the latest salvo in an often aggressive battle between the Russian and English bids. The Russians have been irritated that the British media has focused on the lack of infrastructure and alleged racism problems, and have countered with their own attacks on England. Mr Koloskov said that members of the bid team had deliberately made statements to provoke the English. "They are not happy at all with our statements, but that's not a reason for us to keep our opinions to ourselves," he said.

Unlike South Africa, which already had a developed tourist industry and a history of hosting major sporting events before this year's World Cup, many of the Russian cities put forward as host venues have little or no tourist infrastructure. It's hard to imagine Brazilian fans sambaing through the streets of the drab Baltic port of Kaliningrad, or the WAGs hitting the shops of Ekaterinburg, but the Russians are serious and the government has promised that if successful, they will pump billions of pounds of money into building the necessary stadia and infrastructure.

Vladimir Putin's statement

"I have just finished speaking with Mr Blatter over the telephone. Regretfully, we have recently witnessed an obvious campaign against some members of the Fifa Executive Committee. They are being smeared. There is an attempt to discredit them. This seems to constitute unfair competition during the run-up to the voting to decide which country will host the World Football Championship in 2018.

"In this respect, I would like to say that Fifa is not just simply an organisation for conducting football matches. Fifa is a major international organisation, whose activities in the social area are very important globally. It is not a secret that football is probably one of the most popular sports. It keeps our young people away from the streets, illicit drugs and drinking.

"And I believe such methods of competing are unacceptable.

"Of course, I would be happy to go to Zurich and present the Russian application myself in person. However, given the situation I believe it better to refrain from going, particularly because I respect Fifa and Fifa Executive Committee members and want them to be able to make the decision objectively without any pressure from the outside. Incidentally, I am calling on my foreign counterparts to do the same."

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