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Thursday, December 2, 2010

World Cup 2018: England confident of victory ... but vote will be fearsomely close

On the white board in the England bid’s war room at the Hotel Steigenburger, two contrasting scenarios of how Thursday’s decisive vote will pan out have been sketched.n the first, England ride to victory on a wave of support as every bet they have made in the past year pays off. In the second, they are ejected in ignominy in the first round as every promise they have received turns out to be a lie and their saviour, Jack Warner, does his deal elsewhere.

World Cup 2018: England confident of victory ... but vote will be fearsomely close
Which it is to be will be revealed around 4pm, but the bid leadership retired to their rooms for a few fleeting hours of sleep last night confident that they had plotted a route to victory.
The heart of the strategy is clear from the targeted lobbying by Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham in the last 48 hours of campaigning. The ‘Three Lions’ have focused almost exclusively on the half dozen or so voters central to England’s chances of reaching the last round.With no natural block of support, England will rely on individual supporters from unaligned voters in Europe and Africa, which has no bid in either race, and trading Geoff Thompson’s vote with one or more of the Asian 2022 bidders.
To that core they hope to add the support of the Concacaf bloc of three votes controlled by Warner. That would be enough to get into the second round, where they hope to inherit Holland-Belgium supporters including Michel Platini, with the support of executive committee members opposed to the suspected deal between Spain-Portugal and Qatar to get across the line.
The unaligned members England have targeted are Senes Erzik, of Turkey, a close friend of Thompson’s, who the bid believe will deliver on his commitment to support England in the first round and stick with them. So confident are the bid of his support that none of the ‘Three Lions’ have met the Turk.
In Africa, the bid has focused on Issa Hayatou, of Cameroon, the president of CAF, and Jacques Anouma, of the Ivory Coast, both of whom have been personally lobbied by Beckham and Cameron.
The bid’s greatest concern with Hayatou is that the contested allegation of corruption made by Panorama on Monday will alienate him. Against that England will set the Football Association’s support for Hayatou’s 2002 presidential challenge to Sepp Blatter, hoping that the chip will finally be cashed.
They then hope to attract at least one of Junji Ogura, of Japan, and Chung Mong-Joon, of South Korea, in exchange for Thompson’s support.
Warner has had meetings with Beckham and Cameron, as has Chuck Blazer, of the United States, who has also met Prince William, while Rafael Salguero, of Guatemala, has met the Prince and Beckham.
While Blazer and Warner are expected to vote together, Salguero’s position is less certain. There have been suggestions that he will vote separately, possibly to help secure as much support as possible for the US 2022 bid.
Star appeal: David Beckham has spearheaded England's bid in Switzerland this week
Even if he does, however, two of the Concacaf three would elevate England to seven votes, and a full house would give them eight.
That would be enough to get England to the final, where they would be reliant on second preferences to win. Cameron’s meeting with Marios Lefkaritis, an assumed Russian supporter, is part of that effort, as is the courting of Mohamed Bin Hammam, of Qatar.
Bin Hammam is assumed to be wedded to an alliance with Spain-Portugal, but with perhaps three votes under his control, England have been trying to test the strength of that bond.
It is impossible to be definitive about how the votes will fall, and England’s optimism is hard to square with the troubled nature of the campaign. And there are still many variables that could blow them off course.
Warner will do what he has to to get US the 2022 tournament, and a side deal with the Latin Americans pledged to Spain is a possibility. The bid may also have drastically underestimated the depth of antipathy toward England.
But they have a crucial commodity – momentum.
The voting could still be fearsomely close. The second round could conceivably produce a tie for second place on seven votes that would necessitate an extra round of voting, and the final round could finish 11-11, requiring Sepp Blatter to use his casting vote.
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