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Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

England unlikely to win 2018 bid


LONDON — Next Thursday at FIFA House in Zurich the host for the 2018 World Cup will be chosen. The best bid — England's — will probably not win.

Christopher Davies

Football has taken a back seat to tales of corruption, bungs, political maneuvering and old scores being settled. England has better credentials than its rivals, but in the murky waters of FIFA that is unlikely to be enough.

There is a growing feeling that the joint-bid by Spain and Portugal will pip Russia for the right to stage the 2018 finals, leaving England third and Holland/Belgium with the wooden spoon.

As it is a blind vote no one will know who the 22-man executive committee will vote for 12 — 11 including president Sepp Blatter — are needed to win. As men well versed in the politics of football, you can bet all the members have all said the right things to all the candidates.

England has the stadiums, the passion of the fans, the infrastructure, traveling within a relatively small country is easy, the Premier League is the most popular in the world and the charisma of David Beckham, a focal point of the bid team, should not be underestimated.

Russia would be a new frontier for the World Cup, some thing Blatter encourages, and when prime minister Vladimir Putin puts his mind to something failure can have negative repercussions on those around him. They have promised free travel for fans between the far-flung venues and the fact that the Russians will spend whatever is necessary should not be discounted.

The Holland/Belgium bid will do little more than make up the numbers. It is the Spain/Portugal bid that is gathering pace.

Its executive committee representative Angel Maria Villar Llona is a wily old fox with friends in the most influential of high places. As world champion Spain has special status and can count on the Latin vote from members from Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala and Paraguay.

In fact, the Iberian bid is confident of seven votes and its alleged, illegal and denied collusion; exchanging votes with 2022 hopeful Qatar still causes concern for England.

If England fails, the blame will be directed at the Sunday Times for exposing corruption among two members. FIFA banned Amos Adamu of Nigeria for three years and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti for one in the wake of the Sunday Times' expose that they agreed to accept bribes staged by reporters in apparent exchange for favorable votes.

Instead of being grateful to the newspaper, FIFA and members of the executive committee criticized the Sunday Times for putting its nose into business that didn't really concern it.

The influential Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago, whose family made a profit of at least $1 million from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets he had bought, claimed the investigations were "so stupid" and were "deliberately designed to have a negative impact on England's chances."

In fact England has probably shot itself in the foot once too often to succeed. Lord Triesman, a Labour peer, was chairman of the Football Association and the bid team but he was forced to step down after a former aide, Melissa Jacobs, taped him (and sold to a newspaper) claiming Russia would help Spain to bribe referees at the World Cup in South Africa in return for its rival's support in the contest for 2018.

Then there was the ill advised English gesture of sending the wives/partners of FIFA's executive committee Mulberry handbags worth £230 each. At least one was returned.

Then came the Sunday Times' story, with a BBC Panorama special on FIFA to be broadcast on Monday. FIFA doesn't like its dirty linen being aired in public even if what is discovered is sufficient for it to suspend those concerned.

As the power brokers of world football gather in Switzerland next week the would-be host countries will do all they can in the final days before Thursday's vote to talk up their bid, but the chances are the members have already made up their influential minds.

* * * * *

YES, HUNGARIAN referee Viktor Kassai was wrong to disallow a penalty for Arsenal when Carlos Vela was clearly fouled by Braga's Matheus, compounding his error by cautioning the Mexican for diving.

But it was one instance in the game. Arsenal had eight goal attempts — one on target — and you cannot blame Kassai for such wastefulness.

Nor the way the Arsenal defense was beaten with embarrassing ease by Matheus, who scored both goals in Braga's 2-0 win.

The Gunners must now beat Partizan Belgrade at Emirates Stadium to guarantee qualification for the Champions League knockout stage.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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