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Sheikh Salman favourite for FIFA presidency on day of in Zurich

ZURICH -- The support of most nations in Africa and Asia and the backing of one of sports' biggest power brokers should be enough to put Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain in charge of the world's most popular sport on Friday, as FIFA elects a president to manoeuvre the football body away from decades of corruption.

FIFA officials, delegates and observers told the Associated Press that surveys of voters and confederations indicate Sheikh Salman had the most support and could win a majority on the first ballot.

Japan, South Korea, China, North Korea, Hong Kong, Guam, Taiwan, Macau and Mongolia -- who together comprise the East Asian Football Federation -- are the latest nations to say they will vote for the Bahraini in the five-man election.

The United States will vote for Prince Ali, with the former FIFA vice president saying: "I am proud to receive the support of the USA, joining my vision for a new, transparent, fair, and honest FIFA that puts football first."

FIFA ELECTION COVERAGE ON ESPN

- Feb. 22-26, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Outside the Lines
- Feb. 23-26; 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2): ESPN FC

- Feb. 26, 7 a.m. ET (ESPN2): SportsCenter
- LIVE on ESPN3: Feb. 26, from 2 a.m. ET

A second round of voting will likely be necessary unless the other four candidates concede. FIFA rules require a two-thirds majority (138 of 207 federations) on the first ballot, and a majority (104) on later rounds.

Sheikh Salman is running against UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne of France, South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan.

Africa has 54 votes, Europe 53, Asia 46, North and Central America and the Caribbean 35, Oceania 11 and South America 10.

Sheikh Salman seems on track to get the biggest first-round tally, FIFA observers and officials not linked to any candidate told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The officials, who didn't want their names used to avoid angering voters in the secret ballot, said Sheikh Salman had received solid pledges of support to get votes ranging from the "high-90s" to 117.

FIFA elections are typically secretive. Few voters offer public opinions and many promise votes to more than one candidate. But even supporters of Sheikh Salman's biggest competition -- Gianni Infantino, the Swiss general secretary of European governing body UEFA -- were not saying on Thursday they thought he was leading.

"The only people you believe are the ones who say they won't vote for you," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati once said.

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