- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ZURICH (AP) - With Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulling out of helping Russia’s 2018 World Cup bid, Wednesday’s frantic last day of politicking was left to other leaders, princes, actors and models to work their charm on the 22 voters.

Putin’s withdrawal and allegation that the bidding process had turned into an “unfair competition” following scandals targeting FIFA dented Russia’s stature as a favorite to host the event.

England continued to lead the sporting diplomacy, with Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham seeking to sway FIFA’s executive committee for their 2018 bid.

The Spain-Portugal bid again kept its lobbying behind closed doors, but heard Wednesday it will not be able to count on the injured Cristiano Ronaldo in its buildup to the 2018 World Cup vote. Real Madrid said the Portuguese winger needs to recover for Saturday’s match against Valencia.

The Belgium-Netherlands bid, considered the outsider for 2018, was hoping to be boosted by the arrival of Johan Cruyff.

Ahead of Thursday’s 2018 presentation and vote, the five 2022 candidates _ the United States, Qatar, Australia, Japan and South Korea _ made their final pitches to the executive committee Wednesday.

U.S. bidders brought a video message from President Barack Obama, a live speech from Landon Donovan and a botched presentation from Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who missed a page from his script.

Former President Bill Clinton spoke of U.S. strength through cultural diversity, promising a World Cup where every qualifying nation will have native backers living in the United States.

While the American bid stressed diversity, South Korea went for unity.

It highlighted the prospect of peace and a united Korea, insisting that soccer had the power to bring people closer and would be an agent of political change to end the standoff between North and South on the divided peninsula.

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik went to the World Cup in South Africa this year, where both South and North Korea played, to highlight the prospect of unity.

“We saw that football has the power to bring people together, to end enmity and to spur reconciliation,” Kim said. “It gave us a vision that the World Cup in 2022 can be a celebration of peace for Korea and the world.”

Qatar is considered by some an outsider to host the first World Cup in the Middle East, downplayed criticism that it would be simply too hot in the desert nation.

“It would be a bold gamble and an exciting prospect, but with no risk,” bid chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi said through a translator. “Heat is not and will not be an issue.”

Australia lined up all the elegance of star model Elle Macpherson to offset its funky presentation.

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