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Friday, Dec. 3, 2010

Bidders deliver final pleas

Slick England signs off in style as Putin fails to show up for Russia

ZURICH (AP) The races for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup went to the wire Thursday, with no candidate having a lock on the vote of the FIFA executive committee.

News photo
Snowball: Alessandro del Piero of Juventus scores against Lech in Europa League action on Wednesday night. AP PHOTO

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.

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.

The show was as much as could be expected to boost England's chances but the presentations were only a concluding half hour following years of intense lobbying. If England's contribution looked great to the world at large, all that is really needed to host the event is the sympathy, and vote, of the majority among 22 men.

Spain-Portugal indirectly target 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.

After arriving in Zurich strongly favored to win, Russian bid officials spent much time on damage control.

Putin had long been touted as the captain of the bid, but it was left to national team captain Andrei Arshavin and Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva to provide some glamour to the presentation.

Throwing all of her fire and emotion into the presentation, Isinbayeva focused her pale blue eyes on the voters in the room and said with utter conviction "I love football."

Instead, Belgium-Netherlands took a different approach.

Meeting a key demand of FIFA, the leaders of the two nations 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."

Fan violence returns

BIRMINGHAM , England (AP) Birmingham fans ran onto the field and threw flares at rival supporters following Wednesday night's 2-1 win over local rival Aston Villa in the League Cup quarterfinals.

Villa supporters responded by ripping up seats and throwing them onto the St. Andrews field.

The violence was reminiscent of that which marred English soccer through the 1970s and '80s, but Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said the violence should not affect Thursday's vote on the 2018 World Cup host. England is competing with Spain-Portugal, Russia and Netherlands-Belgium.

"Fans shouldn't come on to the pitch at any time. It soured it a bit for us," McLeish said.

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