England with it all to do
Four weeks from today, Fifa president Sepp Blatter will open an envelope in Zurich and reveal the name of the country chosen to host the World Cup in 2018.
Until the recent Sunday Times Insight investigation England might have fancied their chances of being the name inside that envelope. But the admission today from a senior member of the bid team that they have been "significantly harmed" by a backlash from Fifa reflects a growing sense of despondency at the FA.
Many people will be bemused and perhaps even angry that the media could influence the outcome of such an important election.
Fifa has itself given legitimacy to the Sunday Times story by suspending the two members of its executive committee at the centre of the expose - Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii.
Both deny the claims that they asked undercover reporters posing as American lobbyists supporting the USA's bid for 2022 for money for football projects in return for their support. They face a Fifa ethics investigation later this month.
At first it seemed there would be no backlash against the bid. Chuck Blazer, America's member of the Fifa executive committee, said so himself in the days immediately after the Sunday Times published its first story.
But it now seems the reverse is true.
Although the two Fifa executive committee members appear to have a case to answer, their colleagues on the committee are believed to be deeply uncomfortable at what they see as an English media campaign against them.
They feel they are being persecuted, one source told me. They simply cannot understand undercover investigative methods. In many of the countries represented on the executive committee undercover filming by journalists is seen as illegal entrapment.
And the prospect of seven years of scrutiny by the British media fills many of the Fifa members with dread.
All eyes will be on Fifa's headquarters in Zurich when the 2018 hosts are revealed. Photo: Getty
Blatter, no stranger to the searing spotlight of the press in this country, questioned the methods of the English media last Friday. Meanwhile the head of the Asian Football Confederation and Fifa vice president Mohamed Bin Hammam used his blog to attack the press.
He posed the question: "Is it ethical to use unethical methods to protect the ethic?"
Your answer to that philosophical question might well be no. You may think that some of the methods used by the English media are inappropriate. But whatever you think of them it seems hardly fair that England's bid should be judged by the actions of the media.
England 2018 cannot and should not control what newspapers and broadcasters do in a country with a proud tradition of a free press and investigative journalism.
The truth is that if England loses on 2 December it will have been for a whole series of reasons.
The departure of former chairman Lord Triesman (himself a victim of a newspaper story obtained by covert methods), the row over the handbags, FA instability, the misguided complaint against Russia in the last couple of weeks - all these things have played their part.
Every time England's campaign seemed to be going well it suffered a setback which undid all the good work it was doing in highlighting its case as the safe pair of hands for Fifa.
For a long time now Russia has looked like the candidate to beat. But now, thanks to a possible voting alliance with Qatar which is bididng for 2022, Spain's joint bid with Portugal is looking strong.
The Sunday Times stories plus a possible investigation by the BBC's Panorama programme offer handy excuses for both England 2018 and for Fifa for not giving the tournament to England.
So what can England do to repair the damage?
They can try and persuade Fifa that the media in Britain are on side. One idea being discussed is a letter from national newspapers and broadcasters to Fifa declaring their support. There are questions over the effectiveness of such an approach but the London 2012 Olympic bid did something similar following a Panorama investigation into the International Olympic Committee a year before the vote.
To win the contest one country needs a majority of 13 votes out of the 24 Fifa executive committee members. That could be reduced to 22 if Temarii and Adamu are still suspended at the time of the vote.
If it is true that Spain and Portugal have done a deal with Qatar (they are refusing to comment officially on the claims) then they have already got seven votes - three that come with Qatar plus Spain and three from South America.
The key to the election then is; where do the three votes from North and Central America and the Caribbean (Concacaf) go?
One Spanish bid official has already suggested an alliance is in place between England 2018 and USA 2022 and while this would break Fifa rules, if England could secure the support of Concacaf then they might still be in with a chance.
If they can then pick up the votes of Holland and Belgium - widely seen as the candidate most likely to be elminiated first - then they might be able to get into a third and final round of voting and hope that one of Spain/Portugal and Russia eliminates the other.
There is also a chance two key events in the next fortnight could allow them back into the race.
If Fifa's ethics committee takes a strong line against Adamu and Temarii and find there is an illegal alliance between Spain/Portugal and Qatar then the media backlash could fade. It is hardly a legitimate excuse if Fifa has itself taken strong action over the Sunday Times claims.
And, around the same time in mid November, the Fifa technical report is due to be published. It is expected each country will be assessed by risk and England has long marketed itself as the least risky option for Fifa.
If both those go well for England they might be able to perform another remarkable comeback. But it is looking an increasingly tall order.