Vladimir Putin will not attend World Cup vote

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The Independent Football

England's 2018 World Cup bid received a huge boost today after Vladimir Putin, prime minister of Russia, confirmed he would not be travelling to Zurich for the World Cup vote.

Russia are one of England's main rivals and Putin appeared to criticise recent British media investigations into FIFA.

Putin's absence casts a doubt over Russia's hopes and now Spain/Portugal look to be England's main rivals to win tomorrow's vote by FIFA's executive committee.

The bidding process has been overshadowed by allegations of collusion between Spain/Portugal and 2022 bidders Qatar.

There has also been controversy over the Sunday Times investigation into FIFA members that led to six officials being banned, and BBC Panorama's claims this week that three other FIFA members accepted bribes in the 1990s.

Putin said in a speech shown on Russian television: "I would like to note that recently 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 compromised. I interpret this as unfair competition. We believe that such methods of competition are entirely unacceptable.

"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 and without any outside pressure."

Putin said deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov would attend the vote in his place.