England groping in the dark

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ZURICH, December 3- England's humiliating defeat in the race for the 2018 World Cup confirmed that the country which gave football to the world remains eternally barred from the sport's corridors of power.

Ten years ago, England suffered a crushing first-round loss in their bid for the 2006 finals, receiving just two votes after a ham-fisted campaign widely perceived as naive at best and arrogant at worst.

Fast forward a decade, and little has changed. England were again dumped out of the reckoning in brutal fashion when the voting began in Zurich, eliminated with two votes once more in the first round.

It was not supposed to end like this.

By widespread consent, England’s 2018 bid team had learned from the mistakes of 2000, campaigning with humility rather than arrogance, and building a bid around the promise of a tournament designed to be a global party.

The final weeks of campaigning had followed nearly a decade of assiduous outreach across the globe, with the Football Association funding hundreds of development programmes and scheduling friendlies from Trinidad to Thailand.

The English bid had also promised to match FIFA’s development programmes around the world over the next decade if successful.

It almost went without saying that England boasted an array of modern stadia, solid transport infrastructure and a passion for football, all of which gave it high marks in FIFA’s technical evaluation report.

Yet in the end, even with a high-powered delegation in Zurich led by Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William, and football icon David Beckham, it all counted for nothing.

"What did we expect?" asked former England manager Graham Taylor. "FIFA, as far as I’m concerned, is full of people who say ‘yes’ to your face and ‘no’ behind your back.

"England have little or no influence. We are considered arrogant, we are considered to be know-alls," he added.

Geoff Thompson, England’s representative on the FIFA executive committee and provider of 50 percent of their votes, admitted he was baffled by the result.

"I cannot believe what has happened, and I am naturally very, very disappointed," he said.

"The votes that were promised clearly didn’t materialise. I never imagined we would go out in the first round."

Yet according to British journalist Mihir Bose, a leading investigative sports journalist who writes a blog for insideworldfootball.biz, the likes of Thompson are part of the problem.

"You look at France. Who’s their representative? Michel Platini. The world doesn’t need to be told who he is. You look at Germany. Who’s their representative? Franz Beckenbauer," Bose told AFP.

"We have Geoff Thompson. He’s a very nice guy, but he’s not that sort of heavyweight figure who’s played football at that level. We’ve got to look at how these countries have encouraged their sports people to come in and become first class sports administrators," Bose said.

"England created the games but they didn’t create institutions like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. They were created by Frenchmen.

"So there is a fundamental lack of understanding of how these organisations operate. What this result tells us is that England don’t have enough weighty people in the corridors of power."

Former FA executive director David Davies told the BBC he hoped the result would not lead to England retreating further into the wilderness.

"The key thing is looking ahead. I hope English football as a result of this doesn’t go into a sort of isolationist period of saying ‘oh it’s all these terrible foreigners’ and all the rest of it," Davies said.

"The reality of it is the game is great in our country because it’s the world game."

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