(WFI) England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup will receive another boost tomorrow when the Football Association stage a reception in Johannesburg, attended by Princes William and Harry.

The reception, hosted by FA chairman Roger Burden, is nominally to celebrate the South African World Cup and build relationships with FIFA power-brokers, but no one has any illusions that its real purpose is to boost England’s bid to host the 2018 finals.

All 24 FIFA Ex-co members have been invited, but it is not yet clear how many will attend.

The presence of William and Harry – second and third in line to the British throne – highlights the powerful domestic backing England’s bid has. The pair will also be at tonight’s England v Algeria match in Cape Town.

They will be joined by London Mayor Boris Johnson, sports and Olympics minister Hugh Robertson and secretary of state for media and culture, Jeremy Hunt.

Bid sources have indicated that there has been firmer governmental support since a new British coalition government came into place last month, particularly from Hunt’s office – where there was a feeling that its previous occupants were “disinterested”.

Robertson, whose office is ultimately controlled by Hunt’s ministry, has said that England’s World Cup bid is its “number one priority” this year.

The reception should round off a good few weeks for England’s bid team, with their presence at CONCACAF and FIFA congresses – where David Beckham was a star turn – going down well with delegates.

Australia’s withdrawal from the race to host the 2018 finals has also worked to England’s advantage.

Firstly, it clears up some of the horse-trading with CONCACAF – which is putting its three FIFA Ex-co votes behind the USA bid for 2018 and 2022 – likely to go on as the bid race reaches its conclusion later this year.

The USA has no need withdraw from the running for 2018 unless FIFA says so and is currently in a stronger position being in both bid races. When the time comes, its confederation can place its three votes behind the strongest European challenger for 2018 in exchange for support for its bid to host the 2022 finals.

Significantly for England, the bid team’s 12-minute presentation to CONCACAF last week went down best of all the European frontrunners.

Spain’s paella-inspired presentation has already been documented, while Russia’s was waylaid by technical problems – which put its bid team on the back foot. In addition to this, there is goodwill to the Holland-Belgium bid, who are well-liked but not considered serious contenders.

Secondly, Australia’s withdrawal also frees up the two FIFA Ex-co votes it seemed guaranteed for 2018.

INSIDER understands that the Australian bid was counting on the votes of Franz Beckenbauer and Reynald Temarii for 2018 and 2022. Football Federation Australia signed a cooperation agreement with the German FA (DFB) after it withdrew from the running of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and the Australian government has also underwritten some A$4million of funding for Oceania.

Whether these votes were guaranteed or merely expected is anybody’s guess – for nothing is set in stone in the murky world of FIFA politics – but it at least seems that they are back in the mix for the 2018 voting.

North Korea players go “missing”
FIFA has denied that four North Korean players have gone missing, amid reports they may have tried to defect.

The official teamsheet handed out prior to the North Koreans’ 2-1 defeat to Brazil on Tuesday listed substitute goalkeeper Kim Myong-Won, An Chol-Hyok, Kim Kyong-Il and Pak Sung-Hyok as “absent” – although it is still not clear why.

“We have no information that the players may have disappeared,” a FIFA spokesman said. “Our liaison officer with North Korea hasn’t signalled anything to us.”

When INSIDER came face to face with a small group of North Korean fans at Ellis Park that night it was clear that they were being monitored by video by some form of their country’s security service. It seems as if extraordinary steps would need to be made in order to defect – unless, of course, the secret services of another country have aided any disappearance.

Blatter watch
The FIFA president was at yesterday’s entertaining showdown between Argentina and South Korea at Soccer City and using Twitter to reminisce about his youth again. “Before the 1st match in ’54 I was due to play for my youth team as an opener at the stadium but it was rained off!” he tweeted.

World Cup in numbers
0 – the number of encounters between England and their opponents in Cape Town tonight, Algeria.

By
INSIDER’s
James
Corbett
in
Johannesburg (
[email protected])

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