Whims of 22 members of Fifa’s executive committee will be crucial in deciding hosts of World Cup 2018 and 2022.
|Supporters ripped up seats after a pitch invasion following Birmingham’s win over Aston Villa [GALLO/GETTY]|
Football’s world governing body Fifa will take the most far-reaching decision in international sport when its executive committee votes on the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
England, who are bidding 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 on Wednesday 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.
Thursday is the culmination of a bidding process that has involved 11 nations with England, Russia and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium seeking to host the finals in Europe in 2018.
The United States, Japan, South Korea, Qatar and Australia are involved in a separate race for 2022 and by awarding two World Cups to be staged so far in the future, Fifa is closing the door on any more World Cup bidding wars for around 10 years.
When Fifa president Sepp Blatter opens the envelopes to reveal the winning names for the two tournaments at the Zurich Messezentrum some time after 1600 local time (1500 GMT), he will spark a financial, economic and social frenzy that will last in the winning countries for more than a decade.
The value of hosting the World Cups is virtually incalculable and could boost the economies of the winning bidders, and certainly the finances of Fifa itself, by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Netherlands/Belgium campaign team were the first in action on Thursday, kicking off World Cup decision day with a highly impressive presentation.
The five countries bidding for the 2022 finals made their presentations on Wednesday.
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 of the presentation.
Their serious message was that the compact nature of the two countries, two of the founding fathers of Fifa in 1904, would provide a safe, green World Cup with fans able to travel around easily to matches.
They were due to be followed by Spain/Portugal at 0900 GMT and then England at 1000 and Russia at 1100.
The competition for both tournaments looked too close to call with no-one able to predict which way the 22-man executive committee would vote in its secret ballot.