Race to host 2018 World Cup intensifies
All eyes might be on this World Cup in South Africa but behind the scenes the race to host the tournament in 2018 is intensifying. Inside the Michelangelo Towers, the luxury Sandton hotel where each of the 24 members of the Fifa executive committee are staying, all nine bidding countries have been out in force.
At this stage, it is still too early to predict the outcome of December's vote. But the last few days have seen some crucial developments.
Firstly, the Asian Football Confederation, AFC, held its congress on Tuesday and decided that it would back Europe for 2018.
With today's unsurprising news that Australia have pulled out of the running for 2018, the move leaves the United States as the only non-European bidder.
Although Europe's four bids - England, Russia and joint bids from Spain and Portugal, and Holland and Belgium - could split the vote, the move means 12 of the 24 members of the executive committee now back a European World Cup in 2018.
Secondly, the last few days have been an important opportunity to gauge the mood among Fifa's powerbrokers after the Lord Triesman affair. The former bid and Football Association chairman quit after he claimed the Spanish FA was trying to bribe referees at this World Cup.
But while it is always wise to treat their public comments with some caution, most Fifa executive committee members I have spoken to this week say the FA's swift action helped it avoid a complete disaster.
Mohammed bin Hammam, the influential head of the Asian confederation, told me he felt it had been a damaging moment for England but that they could recover.
He said: "I'm sorry for what happened as Lord Triesman is a friend of mine. I think inititally it had some impact but I don't know now if it has recovered or not. I don't think a country's bid should be affected by such an incident."
Bin Hammam, who is a key player in the Qatar bid for 2022, went on: "England is the home of the game. They can definitely organise the World Cup. They have a lot of advantages. They have the economic power and the infrastructure. They have a strong bid."
And Jack Warner, one of England's harshest critics, a Fifa vice president and head of the North American and Caribbean confederation, told me: "It was inappropriate but those things are now behind us and I think England's bid is back on track."
David Beckham meets Sepp Blatter during the bid presentation in May
Russia appear to be the front-runners, with some people prediciting that Fifa president Sepp Blatter is eyeing another opportunity to make a grand statement by taking the World Cup to one of the globe's major powers for the first time.
But England have done all they can here to try to repair the damage and stay in the hunt. The presence of David Beckham, who was England's star attraction at a networking expo with the 208 members of the Fifa congress, always helps raise the profile but is unlikely to influence the 24 voters.
That can only be done by building close relationships with the members of the executive committee over the next six months. The role of David Dein, the former Arsenal vice-chairman, and Lord Sebastian Coe, a member of the 2018 bid and friend of Blatter will be critical.
The other factor which will influence the outcome of the 2018 vote will be the simultaneous presidential campaign. Blatter formally announced to the Fifa congress here that he would be standing for another four years in 2011.
There is no sign of any challenger, but he will leave nothing to chance and will be looking to shore up support in the next few months. That will undoubtedly add another layer of complexity to the 2018 and 2022 contests.
One last point: England's most persuasive argument is that it can deliver more money to Fifa than any other bidder.
This will undoubtedly have an influence, especially after Fifa announced today that it is heading for a surplus of $1.2bn in 2010, thanks to the vast sums of money earned from TV and sponsorship.
It is a dramatic transformation from the $11m deficit Fifa had in 2002, enabling Blatter to hand each of the 208 member associations a $250,000 bonus this year.
Fifa's member nations are getting used to having lots and lots of money. England's task is to persuade football that it can guarantee similar windfalls if it is awarded the 2018 World Cup.
Blog update - Best moment at today's World Cup bid expo at the Fifa congress - Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, in town to support Russia's campaign, embracing David Beckham on the England 2018 stand.
But it is not a sign Beckham is about to join Chelsea. Sources say the two men have been friends ever since the Premier League champions toured America and played Beckham's team LA Galaxy.
Abramovich's presence here is significant as it could demonstrate a willingness on the billionaire's part to help pay for Russia's costly World Cup plans.