ZURICH - FIFA bosses went into secret
session on Thursday to make the most far-reaching decision in
sport by choosing the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World
The 22 men on FIFA's executive committee heard half-hour
presentations from each of the four competing European bids for
2018 in a contest which observers say is too close to call.
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The announcement of the winning bid was due to be made by
FIFA president Sepp Blatter at Zurich's Messezentrum some time
after 1500 GMT. He will also announce the winner of
the five competing bids for the 2022 finals, who made their
presentations on Wednesday.
England and Russia and two joint bids from
Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal are contesting the 2018
decision while five - Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and
the U.S. - are competing for the hosting rights in 2022.
England and Russia, seen as two of the favourites for 2018,
both took late knocks to their campaigns.
A serious outbreak of football violence at a cup match in
Birmingham on Wednesday brought back memories of the hooliganism
which plagued the English game in the 1980s. One of England's
main pitches had been that this kind of violence had been
removed from the sport.
Russia also suffered a blow when Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin announced he would not go to Zurich to appear with his bid
team because of what he called "unfair competition", an apparent
reference to allegations in the British media of corruption by
some FIFA executive committee members.
The four bid teams for the 2018 World Cup took sharply
contrasting approaches in their last-minute appeals to FIFA to
hand them one of the biggest prizes in world sport.
England used its final presentation to promise FIFA a
commercially successful 2018 World Cup through an initiative
that would match FIFA's current spending on football development.
The money from the England United project would be spent on
developing the grass roots game around the world and leave a
global legacy, bid leaders including Prime Minister David
Cameron said when they addressed FIFA's executive committee
members ahead of the vote.
Russia presented itself as a huge nation which had never
before staged the World Cup, contrasting it with western Europe
where all the major nations have staged the event.
Alexei Sorokin, the Russian bid's CEO, began by quoting
Winston Churchill's famous description of Russia as "a riddle
wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
He said: "We can understand this perception that foreigners
have but it's a Russia... that no longer exists."
The Netherlands/Belgium campaign team, seen as outsiders,
put together an innovative presentation packed with football greats from their two countries.
Video trickery had Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Jean-Marie
Pfaff appearing to play in the same team and another stunt made
it seem that Cruyff, in a 1970s interview, could tell the future
by predicting that the Netherlands would become European
champions in 1988, as they did, and that the World Cup would
come to Belgium and the Netherlands in 2018.
Spain/Portugal took a different approach filled with
speeches from political and bid leaders aiming to convince FIFA
that, despite current economic woes, the Iberian nations were
solid and capable of meeting every infrastructure need. The
presentation was more about motorways, stadiums and airports
than about footballers.
It ended with an emotional and pointed appeal by Iberian bid
president Angel Maria Villar, a member of FIFA's executive
"FIFA is clean, FIFA does things honestly, FIFA works for
football and the world," he said to applause. "All my colleagues
present are honest, hard-working and work for football. You are
"The process is clean, whatever they say."
His comments were clearly directed at the British media
corruption allegations. Two of FIFA's executive committee
members were suspended by FIFA last month after an investigation
by its ethics commission.
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