FIFA set to take sport`s biggest decision

London: Bidding teams for the right to host the 2018 World Cup finals took sharply contrasting approaches on Thursday as they made their last-minute appeals to FIFA to hand them one of the biggest prizes in world sport.

FIFA was set to name the hosts of both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups later on Thursday from a total of nine rival bids in a contest that most observers consider too close to call.

England, one of four bids to host the event in 2018, suffered a late blow when a match between Birmingham City and Aston Villa was marred by hooliganism on the eve of the vote.

Fans ripped up seats and threw flares into the crowd after a post-match pitch invasion in scenes which resembled the dark days of the 1980s, when English football was plagued by crowd trouble.

England`s success in largely stamping out hooliganism since then had been seen as one of the strengths of the bid.

England is up against Russia and two joint-bids from Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal for 2018. Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and the United States are contesting the 2022 hosting rights.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter will announce the winners of the two tournaments at the Zurich Messezentrum some time after 1600 local time (1500 GMT).

After the five 2022 bid presentations were held on Wednesday, the four European bids took the floor on Thursday before the 22 voting members of FIFA`s executive committee.

Soccer Greats

The Netherlands/Belgium campaign team, first in action on Thursday, put together an innovative presentation packed with soccer greats from their two countries.

A self-deprecating video of Dutch coach Guus Hiddink`s travels around the world and video trickery which had Dutch and Belgian greats Johann Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Jean-Marie Pfaff playing in the same team were highlights.

More editing tricks made it appear that Cruyff, in a 1970s interview, could tell the future by predicting that the Netherlands would win the European Championship in 1988 captained by Gullit, as they did. He also "predicted" that the World Cup would come to Belgium and the Netherlands in 2018.

Gullit told FIFA: "Our limited size is our real strength, beneficial for players, fans and visitors. The economic power of our country is high, we are in the heart of Europe and our bid is a showcase for joint bids."

Spain/Portugal took a contrasting approach filled with speeches from political and bid leaders aiming to convince FIFA that, despite current economic woes, the Iberian nations were solid and capable of meeting every infrastructure need. The presentation was more about motorways, stadiums and airports than about footballers.

It ended with an emotional and pointed appeal by Iberian bid president Angel Maria Villar, a member of FIFA`s executive committee.

"FIFA is clean, FIFA does things honestly, FIFA works for football and the world," he said to applause. "All my colleagues present are honest, hard-working and work for football. You are honest workers."

"The process is clean, whatever they say."

His comments followed British media reports alleging corruption by several executive committee members. Two were suspended by FIFA last month after an investigation by its ethics commission.

England and Russia were due to make the final presentations before the executive committee retired to make its decisions in private.

Bureau Report

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