The great and good of football, or what passes for such a category at present, has assembled in Zurich to decide which countries will be bestowed with the honour of hosting the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Bloomberg journalist Tariq Panja on the vote
After months of fierce campaigning - as well as a depressing portion of revelations, allegations, suspensions and accusations - 22 members of FIFA's executive committee will clamber into their seats and watch final candidacy presentations from the nine contenders on Wednesday ad Thursday.
But which countries are leading the race and which are lagging behind ahead of the all-important vote? ESPNsoccernet profiles the bids ahead of FIFA's decision day.
For: As Sepp Blatter himself has stated, "England can organise the World Cup tomorrow", boasting as it does a collection of world-class stadia and the necessary infrastructure to deliver a major tournament. England has also scored high in economic terms, with impressive revenue projections that would bode well for FIFA's balance sheet, and there are absolutely no fears over demands on transport and technology. Simply put: England is a safe choice, and by dispatching its big guns - David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham - to Zurich, the bid team will hope to convince the exco members to choose the obvious option.
Against: Investigations from England's prying media have led to the suspension of two FIFA exco members and levelled serious allegations against a further four men who will vote in Zurich. Both FIFA and England's bid team have criticised the investigations by the Sunday Times and Panorama and, in FIFA's secretive cloisters, such intrusiveness will not play well. England also fails to fulfil the 'legacy' aspect of FIFA's requirements as its domestic football is already a shiny, commercially-successful product.
Chances: Ever-decreasing. Exposes by the British media have caused resentment amongst FIFA exco members and if England hoped it could count on the three votes controlled by CONCACAF president Jack Warner, it may have to think again following fresh allegations levelled in his direction by the BBC. England was also hoping to court votes from Africa, but FIFA vice-president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon was fingered in the Panorama probe. England is very much an "underdog", according to bid chief Andy Anson.
For: Ambassador Ruud Gullit says the joint bid is presenting itself as the environmentally-friendly choice and that a tournament in Netherlands/Belgium would be "the greenest World Cup ever." The bid, which is strong on overall infrastructure, has also not been tainted by any accusations of corruption and is attempting to depict itself as the 'clean' choice for an organisation beset by allegations. Having never hosted a World Cup, the countries that gave the tournament Johan Cruyff and Enzo Scifo also present a legacy opportunity for FIFA, with Blatter describing it as a "small but very pleasant" option.
Against: Netherlands/Belgium has been graded a medium legal risk, while all other European bids have been graded as low, due to a lack of "government guarantees". FIFA is also known to favour a single host country where possible, although this has seemingly not prevented Spain/Portugal from becoming a strong option. The bid has struggled to depict itself as anything other than a rank outsider.
Chances: Slim to none. Netherlands/Belgium is the 33/1 outsider and is struggling to secure a powerbase of votes. Hopes exist that members from Europe and Africa could be swayed, but FIFA is about as likely to announce a new era of transparency as give the World Cup to the Low Countries.
For: Russia's powerful state can deliver all of FIFA's expectations in terms of government guarantees. With formidable political support, there are no budgetary concerns and Russia's bid has worked hard to make friends and influence people. Amongst all the 2018 bids, Russia offers the greatest opportunity for a lasting legacy and sending the World Cup east would represent a new frontier being breached for FIFA - something that appeals greatly to the organisation. Blatter has said the Russian bid is "remarkable" and that "Russia has big plans to expand".
Against: FIFA's inspectors graded the bid as a medium operational risk as extensive investment is still needed in infrastructure, while the lengthy distances between host cities has seen air transport rated as a high risk. Russia's bid has also been dogged by spats with England's, while it has struggled to shake off accusations that racism remains a residual problem amongst Russian fans, especially following the banner from Lokomotiv Moscow supporters that abused Peter Odemwingie following his move to West Brom. As the ballot day nears, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has confirmed he will not travel to Zurich, which may weaken the bid's last-gasp lobbying.
Chances: Currently the favourite to win FIFA's nomination, the Russian bid has been working hard to court bids from across the globe and could have support in key areas. It is reported that Germany's influential exco representative, Franz Beckenbauer, has pledged his vote to the Russian team while Asia could provide a strong source of backing, meaning Russia could already have as many as eight votes in the bag.
For: As home to the reigning world and European champions, and with Barcelona and Real Madrid dominating debate at club level, Spain is currently the primary force in football culture. As federation sporting director Fernando Hierro put it: "Being world champions could help [FIFA] to give us the World Cup." There is no question that the Spain/Portugal bid fulfils the requirements laid down by FIFA as its technical report was glowing, equalling England's, while existing infrastructure and impressive transport links are also attractive. Furthermore, a surfeit of hotels in a peninsula that is a favourite holiday destination means Spain/Portugal is another low risk option.
Against: A worrying passage in FIFA's report read: "A clear operational concept has not been specified for safety and security.'' Spain/Portugal also suffers from being a joint bid - though chief executive Miguel Angel Lopez says "the two cultures are in fact siblings" - and with La Liga preeminent at present and Portugal hosting Euro 2004, it is hard to make the case for a lasting legacy. The bid was beset by allegations of collusion with Qatar's 2022 bid, while serious economic problems in the two countries could also be cause for concern. The campaign waged by the bid has been strangely low-key compared to its rivals.
Chances: Strong. Though it is third favourite at present with the bookmakers, as Lopez put it, "all the fish are sold", and Spain/Portugal could be counting on as many as eight votes already. It is a strong likelihood that the three South American votes will be cast in their favour while Qatar's Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam was recently forced to deny quotes attributed to him in which he said that he would back Iberia. Support could also come from South Korea and Turkey.
For: Awarding the tournament to Australia would see the World Cup venture into Oceania for the first time, fulfilling legacy requirements perfectly in a country that has demonstrated a real passion for sport. The Sydney Olympics in 2000 also proved Australia is capable of organising a major sporting event and, in terms of stadia, transport infrastructure and security, the country is well placed. The bid team is hoping to woo FIFA voters by utilising the unique skills of supermodel Elle Macpherson in its presentation in Zurich on Wednesday and has not been tainted by the allegations enveloping FIFA in recent months.
Against: Geography. Australia's time zone means that income from European and American TV could be significantly reduced, which is a concern for FIFA, while the scale of the country could also pose problems in terms of travel. Oceania's vote in Zurich has also been removed following the suspension of Tahiti's Reynald Temarii due to allegations of cash-for-votes in the Sunday Times, which deprives Australia of support.
Chances: Australia will hope to court votes from Europe and Africa and although the bid team may not boast the initial level of support enjoyed by the US or Qatar, they could pick up votes if they make it through the first round. Germany's Franz Beckenbauer is a supporter and has said the country has a "good chance" to win the bid.
For: The 2002 World Cup. In conjunction with South Korea, Japan boasted wonderful stadia, immaculate infrastructure and a welcoming and friendly attitude that helped make the tournament a great success. Japan has also made much of their innovative plans to screen games in 3D, utilise digital tickets and allow fans to explore stadiums using hand-held GPS devices.
Against: The 2002 World Cup. Being granted the honour of being a host nation so recently naturally works against the Japanese bid, as does their time zone situation, which risks a drop in revenue from European and American markets. FIFA has also identified a lack of governmental support and Japan Football Association president Junji Ogura said of the technical report: "I was hoping they would rate our proposal more than they did. We had much higher expectations."
Chances: Not good. Currently joint 20/1 outsiders alongside South Korea, Japan appears to lack political will from within its own borders and support from FIFA members. They will be scrabbling for votes across the board, and are likely to struggle, though Ogura's place on the exco gives them one vote at least.
For: In the gas-rich country, money is no object and this has been reflected in an impressive campaign that has boasted of the development of state-of-the-art stadia and has pulled in stellar support from the likes of Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and legendary Frenchman Zinedine Zidane. Indeed, it is said that a high-profile television campaign involving the former Real Madrid star is influencing perspectives. Qatar is also nicely placed for global television revenue and taking the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time would be a real source of pride for FIFA, and provide a genuine legacy.
Against: FIFA says Qatar's punishing summer heat, with temperatures possibly reaching 50 degrees Celsius, could be a "potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators''. FIFA is also concerned that ten of the 12 stadia will be located in a cluster with a radius of 25-30 km. Qatar also claims it has been the victim of "unethical resistance" and a dirty tricks campaign, as allegations of collusion with Spain/Portugal were unproven.
Chances: Very good. Qatar is currently the favourite to secure the 2022 World Cup and it is expected that it will secure support from Spain, as well as votes from Africa, South America and Asia. Julio Grondona, head of the Argentinean FA, is known to be a supporter and FIFA could well agree with Zidane's belief that "we had the 2010 World Cup in Africa and now it is time for the Middle East."
South Korea (2022)
For: Like Japan, the 2002 co-host is well placed in terms of stadia and infrastructure , as well as security and technology, so there are few fears on the organisational front. Amongst the 2022 contenders, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik will be the only national leader to take part in his country's presentation in Zurich and FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon is an influential figure in FIFA's corridors of power. Furthermore, recent military clashes with neighbour North Korea - which could host some games under the terms of the bid - "heightens the need for peace on the peninsula and backs up the nation's campaign to host the event", according to a highly pragmatic bid official.
Against: Just like Japan, the 2002 tournament is still fresh in the mind, while awkward broadcast times will impact on viewing figures in key markets. Despite optimism from bid officials, tensions in the region may not reflect favourably on a bid that hopes to stage games in North Korea.
Chances: Not good. The South Korean bid team needs a minor miracle to prevail in Thursday's vote and, despite Chung's influence within FIFA, it is struggling to win the necessary support.
United States (2022)
For: The cornerstone of the US bid is the financial benefit it will bring FIFA. Bloomberg recently reported that only the England and US bids would be able to satisfy FIFA's revenue targets and it has been suggested that hosting the World Cup would contribute as much as $5 billion to the country's economy. The last time the tournament was hosted in the States, a record 3.6 million spectators attended matches, and the legacy from that tournament (along with the popularity of sport in the country) means there are few reservations over infrastructure or organisation. Expanding the US market and providing a lasting legacy will also be very attractive to FIFA.
Against: USA's bid has been graded as a medium legal risk due to a lack of government guarantees. FIFA requires pliability from foreign governments and the US may not oblige to the full extent. US bid executive director David Downs insists: "We have been in conversations with FIFA about this and they are comfortable with the situation." The distance between venues may also be an issue.
Chances: Outsiders. The US bid sits behind Qatar and Australia approaching ballot day and though it can count on the support of CONCACAF's three votes, it has work to do in Europe, South America and Africa.