Russia, Qatar triumph as World Cup losers cry foul

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Russia and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar have scored stunning victories in the battle for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, triggering anguished disappointment and cries of foul play from losing bidders.

The surprise results Thursday came after an acrimonious bidding war tainted by allegations of corruption.

In a historic conclusion to two years of frenzied lobbying, world football chief Sepp Blatter revealed the surprise winners following a secret ballot of 22 FIFA executive committee members in Zurich.

The announcement means that after the 2014 tournament in Brazil, the World Cup will be staged in two countries that have never hosted the event before. And it will head to the Middle East for the first time in the heat of Qatar.

Russia prevailed in the 2018 race after upsetting England -- who were knocked out in the first round of voting after mustering a mere two votes -- and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands.

After deciding to skip the actual vote, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin jetted into Zurich late Thursday to congratulate FIFA and the Russian bid team on the result, which he said was a defeat for England.

"A 2018 World Cup will be up to the highest standards, new modern stadiums will be built in time and to perfection: we are eager to do our best for the comfort and safety of our guests," Putin said.

Asked about England's meager support from FIFA's decision-makers, he said: "Britain is a great football country and in Russia we have a lot of fans of your football."

But while promising a warm welcome for England's players, should they qualify, he added pointedly: "Great Britain lost."

The shock of the day came in the 2022 race, where Qatar beat off stiff competition from the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan in a remarkable result.

Qatar 2022 bid president Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani said his country's victory had defied the odds.

"We started off being written off, being the unconventional bid. And no-one thought we had a chance to win," he said.

"On behalf of millions living in the Middle East, thank you FIFA for having such bold vision. We have a date with history which is summer 2022."

Qatar's win came despite serious reservations being raised by a FIFA technical report about the logistical problems of staging the football tournament in the Gulf during the searing heat of the summer months.

The oil-rich Qataris have promised to build an array of state-of-the-art stadia to keep players and fans comfortable in a climate-controlled environment, but the technology has never been tested on a large scale before.

Al-Thani dismissed concerns about the climate as "misconceptions".

Yet there was global disbelief at the shock victory for Qatar, who have never played in a World Cup.

US President Barack Obama, who had recorded a personal appeal in support of the beaten American bid, told reporters in Washington: "I think it was the wrong decision."

Dejected Australian fans in Sydney were more forthright.

"Soccer is dead to me," Jeremy Tom, 26, told AFP. "What a rort (scam). Who goes to Qatar to watch the world game? It's a joke."

On Internet chat sites in the United States and Asia, allegations of shady dealing were rife.

"They can bribe us next time," an angry US fan tweeted. One netizen in South Korea said sarcastically: "Korean electronics companies should get ready for the bid to provide air conditioners to Qatar."

Thursday's results brought the curtain down on one of the most controversial World Cup votes in years, with FIFA facing myriad allegations of corruption which led to two executive committee members being suspended.

An ill-tempered climax to the campaign saw Spanish and Russian officials issue veiled attacks on England, after the British media had led the charge on alleged financial impropriety in FIFA.

England 2018 failed even to make it to the second round of voting despite a heavyweight lobbying offensive led by Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William and football icon David Beckham.

"According to FIFA we had the best technical team, no one could identify any risks of coming to England. I think we had the strongest commercial bid and the country is passionate about football," Cameron told reporters.

"But it turns out that's not enough."

Former England team manager Graham Taylor was scathing.

"What did we expect?" he told BBC radio. "FIFA, as far as I'm concerned, is full of people who say 'yes' to your face and 'no' behind your back."

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