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FIFA presidency: The candidates challenging Sepp Blatter

Dutchman Michael van Praag has announced he will stand against Sepp Blatter in the FIFA presidential election.

Nominations for the FIFA presidential election close on Thursday with five challengers vying to unseat the incumbent Sepp Blatter.

With world football's governing body blighted by a string of controversies, the race for the top post promises to be a highly charged affair that will culminate with its 209 member countries voting in Zurich on May 29.

Here, we take a look at who is in the running for the most important job in world football and assess their chances.

Sepp Blatter: After initially promising to step down following last summer's World Cup, Blatter did an about-turn and is now going for an unprecedented fifth term. He maintains "my work is not finished."

The 78-year-old Swiss is wily when it comes to football politics. While the world's media and his critics have been focused on taking him down -- particularly over the way the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded -- Blatter has been on a PR offensive to ensure he stays at the helm.

He has already secured the backing of four of the six confederations that make up FIFA: AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONMEBOL (South America) and the Oceania Federation. He is promising greater reforms and to continue with his drive to spread football into new territories. Love him or loathe him, barring a major upset, Blatter's victory already looks to be in the bag.

Luis Figo: A surprise, last-minute entry, there is more to Figo's candidacy than just hollow hopes that his superstar status may attract votes. Since retiring in 2009 after a career that saw him play for Portugal, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan, Figo has become a respected football administrator for his work on UEFA's Football Committee and is heavily involved in a number of football business ventures that have taken him around the globe and given him an impressive contacts book.

The 42-year-old has already secured the backing of five national associations, which all candidates require, and he is set to visit several others over the coming weeks. Figo is highly regarded within Africa and Asia, which could be crucial in his attempts to secure votes. It will be a tough task, but the star of Portugal's golden generation will be confident of giving Blatter a run for his money.

Luis Figo will hope to run Sepp Blatter all the way.

Jerome Champagne: For 11 years he was FIFA's deputy secretary general, personal adviser to Blatter and campaign manager for his 2002 presidential victory. Champagne emerged from his tenure with his reputation intact and is widely seen as a clean and safe pair of hands, but he is viewed with huge scepticism, given his connections to the current regime. Ever the diplomat, Champagne has been using the contacts he developed at FIFA, where he also managed international relations, to focus on policies rather than personalities.

He insists that the organisation's problems are more systematic rather than anything to do with Blatter. There is one thing that gives Champagne an edge over his rivals: He has specific proposals on what he would do if he was to upset the form book and dislodge Blatter, but they are unlikely to make a difference come the May election.

Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein: He will stand as a candidate of impeccable pedigree and connections, and many of Blatter's opponents are pinning their hopes on the 39-year-old Jordanian prince who is FIFA's vice-president for Asia, president of the West Asian Football Federation, which he founded in 2001, vice president of the Asian Football Confederation and head of his country's football association.

Prince Ali has been one of Blatter's most high-profile critics and was a leading voice in calling for the Garcia report into allegations of corruption surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids to be made public. He has already received the seal of approval from some football royalty, including UEFA president Michel Platini. However, despite his influential backers, Prince Ali does not even have the support of his own Asian federation and is unlikely to assume the FIFA throne.

Michael van Praag: One man in particular must have been delighted to hear the news earlier this week that the Dutch FA president was running for the FIFA presidency: Blatter. Van Praag may have inadvertently scored an own goal in the process because in entering the election fray, he has split the anti-Blatter vote. UEFA, CONCACAF and any other national association in the anti-Blatter camp is now left pondering whom they should back.

During a 14-year spell as Ajax president, Van Praag presided over one of the most successful spells in the club's history. Despite having the backing of some of Europe's leading national associations, Van Praag is unlikely to feature on the honours board in his quest to unseat Blatter.

David Ginola is unlikely to still be in the race come Thursday.

David Ginola: His participation has been written off as little more than a publicity stunt. The former France international tormented defenders with his silky skills but is likely to come unstuck against FIFA's suits. The organisation's rules state that candidates cannot be associated with betting or gambling firms. Ginola has revealed that he is being backed by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, which is paying him 250,000 pounds to run. Eligible candidates also have to prove that they have worked within football administration for at least two years.

Widely expected to be dumped out of the election race, should he somehow spring a surprise and stay the course, Ginola will find himself in unfamiliar territory. For once, his legendary good looks and Gallic charm will count for little.

Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport


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