Evening Standard

Crucial meeting: FIFA’s Jack Warner. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Never has a bid for the World Cup been more fluid and in the last three days here in Zurich I have heard every speculation. They have ranged from England and Russia going out in the first round to England actually winning.

Our bid team, led by Andy Anson, are going into the last 24 hours in a bullish mood, confident that the bookmakers may have got it wrong in making England second favourites behind Russia.

To an extent, some of this is the optimism that all bids generate. They have to believe they can win otherwise there is little point in bidding.

Even Belgium-Netherlands, widely seen as the weakest of the four bidders going for 2018, are suggesting they might spring a surprise. Certainly, the party they threw last night in the centre of Zurich with Dutch fans bringing their traditional dash of colour and music, and Ruud Gullit his special brand of football magic, was the best bidding show we have seen here.

Such parties may generate a feel-good factor. They do not win bids. The hours immediately after the Panorama broadcast, which accused three FIFA executive members who will vote tomorrow of having taken bribes, did generate a lot of bad feeling.

However, the new English optimism is based on the belief that this has been overcome with our team finally mastering the art of doing the sort of behind-closed-doors lobbying of FIFA that ultimately decides such bids.

Crucial in this has been David Cameron. While the talk is of England’s three-man attack of Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, both the future king and Beckham are playing more of a cameo role.

For FIFA executives, who see their organisation as a football state, what really matters is being wooed by the British Prime Minister.

Like Tony Blair in Singapore, Cameron in Zurich has met several executive members in a suite in the hotel where most of them are staying. His most crucial meeting was with Jack Warner last night. The FIFA vice president from Trinidad, who controls three votes, was named in the Panorama programme as making money from World Cup tickets. However, bid sources say the meeting went well and those three votes could come to England.

For England to win, they have to have Warner’s backing. Add the vote of Geoff Thompson, Britain’s representative on the executive, Issa Hayatou, of Cameroon, and Junji Ogura, of Japan, and we reach six in the first round. This will be two behind the eight Spain-Portugal are expected to get but should mean England survive the first round. Six is seen by the bid as providing a launchpad for victory.

England were hoping to get Senez Erzik, of Turkey. However, with Dutchman Guus Hiddink as Turkey coach, Belgium-Holland are also hoping to get his vote. If they do, it would mean the bid minnows could reach five votes, avoid a first-round exit and endlessly complicate calculations which could even see Russia going out in the first round.

I think that is unlikely. I anticipate Spain-Portugal, England and Russia to go through to the second round, where this contest will be effectively decided.

When England started bidding for 2018 two years ago, the thinking was Russia was the main rival, Spain-Portugal less of a threat. Now England expect a final against the Iberians. In winning 2012, London was always more confident of beating Paris in a final rather than Madrid. To do that, England will have to pick up all the Belgium-Netherlands votes, including the one from Michel Platini, who is expected to vote for the low countries in the first round. That is not impossible. But how many of the Russian votes can England get?

The Russian core vote is expected to be Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, Franz Beckbenbaeur, Marios Lefkaritis, of Cyprus, Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister and Jacques Anouma, from the Ivory Coast.

I can see the Ivorian voting for England but not the others. That means England falling short by one vote in the final, making Spain-Portugal the winner.

And with 22 members eligible to vote should there be a 11-11 tie, then Blatter has the casting vote. It is hard to see that going to England.

A senior 2018 bid source told me, “For us to win everything must fall into place”. It could and I see England in the final but just failing to beat Spain-Portugal.


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