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Second-round votes will be crucial in deciding who hosts the World Cup

England’s 2018 bid, forced to review their strategy in response to Sunday Times reports on Fifa members, now find themselves in a tight race with Russia and Spain-Portugal.

A study of the likely vote count in the crucial first round at next month’s bid decision vote shows England level with Spain-Portugal and just ahead of Russia. The situation is similar to the one faced by London’s 2012 Olympic bid. Then London beat Paris in the final run-off. But Madrid offered such a serious challenge that many in the British camp feared the Spanish more and were elated when Paris eliminated Madrid. Now the view is that the Spanish vote could be more fragile, setting up a final with Russia, which the English would favour.

With no country expected to reach a majority in the first round of voting on December 2, the teams have to make sure that they survive the cut and then pick up votes from defeated bids. The first bid expected to be eliminated is that of Belgium and Holland.

England hopes to pick up votes initially cast for them in the next round. One of those could be that of Uefa’s president, Michel Platini. Despite the public image of Platini being hostile to England, sources indicate that, in a race with Russia and England, he is likely to go for the latter.

The Spain-Portugal bid is considered vulnerable, not only because of an alliance with Qatar (which both deny), but because it has almost wholly been the work of the head of the Spanish football federation, and a member of the Fifa executive, Angel Maria Villar Llona. His joint partners, the Portuguese, have hardly made an appearance. More crucially, the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zaperto, has shown nothing like the support of David Cameron for England or Vladmir Putin for Russia.

This means that 2018 could turn on a confrontation in Zurich between the countries’ two leaders. On December 1 at FIFA headquarters, England, led by Cameron, will present to the executive at 11am, followed by Russia at noon.

Putin has not confirmed he will be in Zurich but he won Sochi the 2014 Winter Games after studying how Tony Blair had outwitted Jacques Chirac in 2005 to secure London the Olympics. Cameron, determined to emulate Blair, has wooed Blatter, holding a special Downing Street reception for him.

However, the Sunday Times investigations have complicated matters. There is uncertainty over whether the two suspended executive members, Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii, will be able to vote. This depends on the November 17 ethics committee report on their conduct. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Even before the revelations, rivals were trying to convince executive members that England had overdone talk that they were so well prepared that they could host the World Cup tomorrow. The bid team is now engaged in trying to convince members that it has no control over a free press and its investigations, however uncomfortable they may be for FIFA.

In a related development, Sebastian Coe and Sir Keith Mills, chairman and vice chairman of London 2012, will attend an emergency strategy session of England’s 2018 committee tomorrow to advise on how to cope with the fallout from the Sunday Times allegations about bid corruption. The pair will draw on their experience of the Olympic bidding process when a BBC Panorama documentary painted an unflattering picture of the International Olympic Committee.

Predicted first round voting

Belgium-Holland 2

Spain-Portugal 7

England 7

Russia 6

      

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