The banning of FIFA executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii and insufficient evidence to convict Qatar and Spain of vote trading will have a negative impact on the English bid just 24 hours after a positive technical bid report.
That and the last-minute lobbying plans for Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham had raised hopes among the English team
But Nigerian Adamu, who has been suspended for bribery from all football-related activity for three years and fined £6,250 (10,000 Swiss francs), had been one of the three African votes strongly targeted by the England campaign following a number of visits to his home.
Although the first loyalties of Oceania's Temarii, banned for one year and fined £3,125, were to Australia for 2022, he was also thought to be on England's side for 2018. The removal of Adamu, who intends to appeal, and Temarii is a result of the votes-for-cash revelations in the Sunday
Times and reduces the FIFA World Cup bid electorate to 22.
England bid chief Andy Anson says he has a strategy in place for '22, 23 or 24 voters', but no action being taken against the alleged 2018 Spain–2022 Qatar alliance means the Iberian challengers are expected to take at least seven guaranteed votes into the first round of the secret ballot on December 2.
Another concern is that the FIFA executive might punish the England bid for the role of the country's media in uncovering the bribery scandal.Perversely, ethics chairman Claudio Sulser slammed the Sunday Times for twisting the facts despite having banned six officials (the four others were former executive committee members) for a combined period of 16 years on the back of the newspaper's
Sulser said: 'What I cannot tolerate is the fact that they changed the sentences, they changed the way they presented the truth.
'If footage is taken out of context, that's twisting the facts. They showed footage that lasted four minutes when we have looked at audio and video footage of several hours.'
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke would not respond directly when asked whether the media issue would damage England's chances.
But his resigned 'Good luck to England' comment suggests he believes it will.
Cameron this week telephoned FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, who could deliver the three CONCACAF confederation votes, to arrange a lunch meeting in Zurich ahead of D-day.
Warner, who was visiting a sewage plant in Trinidad when the Prime Minister rang, told Cameron that Russia are England's main rivals, saying: 'If he can overcome the Russian bid, which I think is gaining momentum, then he doesn't have a problem.'
The ethics probe said no evidence had been found of collusion between Spain and Qatar, despite suspicions that have been circulating for months, culminating in the 'we are going to win' note passed between Spain's Angel Villar Llona and Qatar's Mohamed Bin Hammam at the last FIFA executive meeting.
The FIFA powerbrokers have been contacted only by letter and not interviewed by Sulser, who said: 'We didn't find sufficient grounds to reach the conclusion that there was any collusion.'
Qatar, who feared a FIFA witch-hunt, welcomed the decision.
Bid chief executive Hassan Al-Thawadi said: 'We were always confident of this outcome because we have conducted ourselves throughout the campaign adhering to the highest ethical standards
FIFA QUIT FUCKIN' AROUND ENGLAND
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