England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup looks set to go “up to the wire” as world football’s governing body makes its decision in Zurich.
The England bid team believes there is still everything to play for as it completes a gruelling few days of lobbying the Fifa executive committee in Switzerland.
But trouble at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground on Wednesday night was an unwelcome distraction from the team’s efforts – and followed a row earlier in the week over a Panorama documentary claiming three Fifa members took bribes in the 1990s.
On Wednesday night, five people were arrested and 14 were left needing hospital treatment when hundreds of Birmingham City fans invaded the pitch and clashed with riot police in the aftermath of their team’s 2-1 Cup victory over local rivals Aston Villa.
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish insisted he did not think the violence reduced England’s chances of winning Thursday’s World Cup vote.
Before the trouble, the presence of Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham seemed to have bolstered the England bid team’s chances of success, with bookmaker Coral making England the narrow favourites ahead of Russia and Spain/Portugal.
Belgium and the Netherlands’ joint bid is thought to have just an outside chance of succeeding.
England’s presentation will begin at 10am GMT with contributors including Prince William, Mr Cameron and Beckham.
The 22 Fifa delegates will vote in secret at 1pm, before the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts at around 3pm.
England’s hopes were given a further lift on Wednesday night after a key meeting between Fifa powerbroker Jack Warner and the Prince. Mr Warner is president of the Concacaf federation of countries from the Caribbean, north and central America and he confirmed all three of their Fifa members would be voting as a bloc – if England secure these it would be a big step on the road to success in the vote.