FIFA members are due to elect a new president and to pass reforms they hope will open an escape route from a scandal symbolised by the downfall of Sepp Blatter.

The result appears uncertain in the lead-up to Friday's vote and experts say that football's leaders will not be able to escape multinational corruption investigations, even with a new president.

The landmark presidential contest has become an Asia-versus-Europe battle between Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Swiss UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.

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But former FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al Hussein is aiming to upset the odds, and received a boost on Friday with the backing of the United States and Australia. Outsiders Jerome Champagne, an ex-FIFA official, and South African tycoon Tokyo Sexwale, were also pleading their cause to more than 200 delegates in Zurich.

However, minutes before the vote, Sexwale withdrew from the race.

"I have got a surprise for you: my campaign ends today and I suspend my participation. With only four people, it is your problem now," he told delegates at the extraordinary FIFA Congress.

"I am prepared to serve under the new president."

Sexwale is a former minister and current leader of a FIFA committee [Reuters]

Al Jazeera's Lee Wellings, reporting from Munich, said Friday would be "a long day" for the 207 FIFA delegates.

"It's a long process. Someone will eventually need more than 50 percent of the vote and there will be more votes once candidates are eliminated. It could be 11 hours or so before we know who the president will be." 

Blatter, 79, will not be present at the extraordinary congress in Zurich as he has been banned from football for six years for ethics breaches and could face criminal charges.

However, in an interview published in a Swiss newspaper on Friday, Blatter said many associations and groups had still asked his advice on who to vote for, Reuters reported.

Blatter also said he had contact with all of the candidates except Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.

"At Christmas in Visp I drank mulled wine with one of the candidates," Blatter said, then confirming this had been with Infantino.

'Broken house'

With sponsors holding back on deals and a controversial 2018 World Cup in Russia looming, Sexwale said on the eve of the vote that FIFA was a "broken house".

Infantino, general secretary of Europe's football bloc UEFA, and Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation, have offered starkly different paths for FIFA.

While promising reforms similar to those on which votes will be cast on Friday, Infantino has proposed increasing the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams and to more than double the amount given back to the 209 national associations to more than $1bn in total every four years.

Sheikh Salman is one of the favourites to become FIFA president [Reuters]

Sheikh Salman, who is seen as closer to the FIFA old guard and has a bedrock of support in Asia and Africa, has said the proposal could bankrupt FIFA.

He said on Thursday he would not "mortgage" FIFA's future to win votes.

Salman has advocated splitting FIFA into commercial and football divisions, with himself as more of a figurehead president.

Each of the rivals has political problems.

Infantino was for seven years the right-hand man of Michel Platini, the UEFA president also banned for six years for ethics breaches.

Salman, a senior member of Bahrain's ruling family, has faced tough questions about a clampdown on pro-democracy protests. He has called allegations made by human rights groups "nasty lies".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies