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Monday, December 6, 2010
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England humiliated in World Cup vote
Despite boasting a potent campaign of princely and soccer royalty, England's run for the 2018 World Cup ended in humiliating failure last week.

On the eve of the Zurich vote, Prince William and David Beckham worked late into the night with British Prime Minister David Cameron lobbying for support. Still, the English only managed to receive two votes and were eliminated in the opening round.

One of those votes — after spending 15 million pounds (US$23 million) during two years of bidding — came from Geoff Thompson, the country's only representative on FIFA's executive committee.

"I cannot believe what has happened," said Thompson, who also served as the England bid chairman. "The votes that were promised clearly didn't materialize. I never imagined we would go out in the first round."

Of all the bids, England had mounted the most visible campaign, regularly wheeling out Beckham — arguably the game's biggest star — and pledging to spend millions of pounds on grassroots football around the world.

But voters chose Russia in the second round, which also featured bids from Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium.

England bid chief executive Andy Anson said the country is isolated in the game it helped to invent.

"Geoff Thompson has battled well for us but is kind of stuck out there on his own at FIFA not really integrated into the fabric of soccer," Anson said. "If we want these competitions we have to integrate ourselves more readily into these organizations."

"We have the strongest league in the world, we are very, very strong domestically and therefore we've not always seen the need to do it," he added.

Cameron was surprised by the slight, especially after FIFA President Sepp Blatter said England had the infrastructure to host the tournament almost immediately.

"No one could identify any risks of coming to England," said Cameron, who flew to Zurich for the bid presentation. "I think we had the strongest commercial bid and the country is passionate about soccer, but it turns out that's not enough."

The central problem with England's bid may have been that it constantly gave the impression of being in firefighting mode, lurching from crisis to crisis.

One of the lowest points came days after the bid book was handed into FIFA in May. Football Association chairman David Triesman was forced to resign after being recorded by a newspaper making unproven claims that Spain and Russia set up a bribery scam to influence referees at the World Cup.

"I thought we had a really resilient bid and thought every time we got a knock we got back up and we started fighting," Anson said.

But then the BBC aired a documentary — against the bid's wishes — that claimed three executive committee members took secret payments related to marketing deals in the past.

The former England captain wrote on his Facebook page that he had "heard the rumors that we lost due to the British press." But he added that "I hope that isn't the reason. I believe in a free press and they are incredibly supportive of the game I love."

Dejected supporters in London, though, turned their anger on the domestic media.

"I blame Panorama and I blame the BBC," said 20-year-old student Salim Kassam, who lives near Wembley Stadium. "Everyone here expected England to get it."

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