ENGLAND’S hopes of winning today’s vote to host the 2018 World Cup surged last night after frantic schmoozing and some late hiccups from rival bidders appeared to turn the tide in their favour.
A stellar cast of ambassadors including former England captain David Beckham, Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron led an impressive charm offensive ahead of today’s secret ballot of Fifa’s executive committee (ExCo).
And while England parachuted in its big hitters, key rivals Russia and Spain/Portugal suffered from the damaging withdrawals of high-profile frontmen Vladimir Putin and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Bookies slashed England’s odds amid comparisons with London’s dramatic victory in the battle to host the 2012 Olympics, when Beckham and Lord Coe engineered a late swing in opinion in Singapore in 2005.
Beckham said: “It adds a hell of a weight to our bid to have the Prime Minister and the future King of England on our side lobbying. I saw that in Singapore, how having Tony Blair there supporting the bid was a huge thing. It’s the same here.”
The midfielder was at his diplomatic best, playing down the furore caused by Panorama’s allegations of corruption among ExCo members earlier this week, insisting: “We can trust every one of them.”
Beckham met several ExCo members in an attempt to win over floating voters, as did Prince William, who rose at 7am for breakfast with Paraguayan ExCo member Nicolas Leoz – one of those accused by the BBC programme.
Cameron was similarly busy wooing the 22 men who will take part in this afternoon’s vote and flew back to Switzerland last night to continue his efforts, having returned home for Prime Minister’s Questions.
The day did, however, end on a sour note with crowd violence at the Carling Cup quarter-final between Birmingham and Aston Villa potentially underminding England’s claim to be offering a “fan-friendly” experience.
Russian premier Vladimir Putin pulled out of a planned trip to the gathering in Zurich, where he had been expected to present his country’s case in today’s final pitches.
If that was not enough, Putin risked further damage to Russia’s otherwise fancied proposal by releasing a bizarre statement in which he cried foul play, saying ExCo members had been “smeared”.
LOWDOWN | HOW THE VOTE DRAMA WILL UNFOLD TODAY
The four bidders will make their final 30-minute presentations to the executive committee, starting at 8am GMT.
As pre-determined by a draw, Holland/Belgium will make the first pitch, with England in the penultimate slot at 10am. Spain/Portugal go at 9am and Russia have the much coveted concluding appointment.
The all-important secret ballot of the 22 ExCo members then finally takes place at Fifa’s headquarters on banks of Lake Geneva, with a majority needed for victory.
If no bidders have a majority – ie 12 votes – then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and another round of voting held until a majority is achieved. In the event of a tie Fifa president Sepp Blatter has the casting vote.
The result – and that for the 2022 World Cup, which will also be voted on today – is expected to be announced sometime after 3pm, by Blatter at the Zurich exhibition centre.