World Cup bidders make final push

Updated: December 2, 2010, 9:44 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ZURICH -- The races to host both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup have gone to the wire Thursday, with no candidate emerging as a lock to secure the vote of the FIFA executive committee.

Capping three days of intense lobbying, British Prime Minister David Cameron was at the center of a smooth final presentation for England. It stood in sharp contrast with the overly long show of Spain-Portugal to sway the 22 FIFA voters for the 2018 tournament.

Russia was already hurt by the no-show of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and it seemed unlikely the quirky, fun presentation of Belgium-Netherlands could do much to change their status as outsider.

The five bidders for 2022, Qatar, the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea, had their presentations on Wednesday.

The winners will be announced later Thursday.

As much as the bids covered all corners of the globe, so different were the final presentations, with England's bid standing out with a mix of princely and soccer royalty, from Prince William to David Beckham.

"I know that we can deliver extraordinary public occasions and celebrations," Prince William said.

"I certainly hope so as I'm planning quite a big one myself next year," he said, referring to his upcoming marriage to Kate Middleton.

England, which hosted the World Cup in 1966, has said it will match FIFA's $120 million annual investment in grass roots soccer around the world each year by 2018.

William told the 22 executive committee members who will vote later Thursday that "it's not just about us ... England is committed to developing football internationally as a member of your football family."

Beckham added that England would "create a better future for our grandchildren and many millions more."

England's final presentation was only a concluding half hour following years of intense lobbying. Spain-Portugal indirectly targeted England when it highlighted the corruption allegations against FIFA officials that surfaced in the British media over the past month.

"FIFA is a clean institution. FIFA works honestly," bid president Angel Maria Villar said. "You are all honest, hardworking people."

Spain-Portugal's presentation ran well over time and often seemed awkward. Although the bid has kept a near invisible profile, centering on behind-the-scenes lobbying only, it still kept Spain-Portugal as England's main challenger.

Meeting a key demand of FIFA, the leaders of Belgium and the Netherlands gave guarantees of full cooperation if their joint bid wins. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the two governments "can fulfill all of FIFA's needs and at the same time host a wonderful tournament."

In a FIFA assessment of the bid two weeks ago, the organization complained that the necessary government support was still lacking. As an underdog with little to lose, the Belgium-Netherlands presentation was far from conventional.

It mixed footage of old interviews with updated voice-overs -- a quirky trick making it seem that the joint bid has been destined to win since Johan Cruyff's heyday as a player in the 1970s.

Though Putin declined to deliver Russia's plea in person, bid officials said FIFA could help Russia achieve its modernizing mission more quickly.

"Bidding for the World Cup will help Russia to overcome its tragic past, all the difficulties of the 20th century," Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said.

Shuvalov was fielded as a late substitute 24 hours after Putin decided to stay at home, despite long being heralded as "team captain" of the campaign.

After arriving in Zurich strongly favored to win, Russian bid officials spent Wednesday denying suggestions that Putin's absence revealed fading confidence.

England's final presentation came just hours after seven people were arrested as a result of crowd violence at the end of a League Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday.

But sports secretary Jeremy Hunt, in Zurich, said FIFA should look at the "bigger picture" of England's success in largely eradicating the crowd violence that marred the game in the 1980s.

"The English game has made more progress than anywhere in the world in dealing with hooliganism and stamping out racism," Hunt said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.