England are in with a real chance of a shock victory in today’s FIFA vote for the 2018 World Cup hosting rights after a pronouncement by Vladimir Putin looked to have caused serious damage to rivals Russia.
England now look to be neck-and-neck with Spain/Portugal though bid leaders accept there is still much uncertainty surrounding the secret ballot of the 22 FIFA executive committee members.
Holland/Belgium are also in the running, though they are very much the outsiders.
The scenario of England facing Spain/Portugal in the final has been backed up by the Iberian bid's chief executive Miguel Angel Lopez.
Lopez said: “We are confident, we are not certain. We think we will win, we have eight votes for sure and it looks like it will be against England in the final round.”
Russian prime minister Putin's announcement that he will not be travelling to Zurich was accompanied by an apparent attack on British media investigations into FIFA.
Putin's absence will be in stark contrast to the activities of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been in Zurich since Tuesday along with Prince William and David Beckham meeting FIFA members. England's hopes that the lobbying has paid dividends has been intensified by Putin's remarks.
Putin said: “We have watched with disappointment as an obvious campaign was being unleashed against members of the FIFA executive committee.
“They are being dragged through the mud and smeared. I interpret this as unfair competition. We believe that such methods of competition are entirely unacceptable. Under these circumstances, I think it would be best not to go out of respect for the members of the FIFA executive committee, so that they could make their decision in peace and without any outside pressure.”