THIS COULD BE David Beckham's greatest play.

Forget everything he's done on the pitch while playing for England, Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy. It's in his current role as ambassador for which Beckham will be knighted if England is awarded the 2018 World Cup when FIFA makes its announcement tomorrow in Zurich.

The English are battling three other European bidders for the 2018 prize - Russia and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands. And if you listen to English Prime Minister David Cameron, who seems to be pushing an anti-freedom-of-the-press initiative, England also is bidding against the BBC and London's Sunday Times.

The network and the newspaper have only told the world what's always been suspected. That there's corruption within FIFA should hardly be considered breaking news, but the fact that the stories have come so close to the bid announcements is what has annoyed the PM.

The Times initiated a sting in which two World Cup-voting members of the FIFA board were found guilty of taking bribes for votes, which was upheld by FIFA after an investigation. Both men were suspended and lost their voting privilege, dropping the number of voters to 22. (And one of those bribees was expected to be a solid vote for England.)

The BBC waited until Monday night, just days before the 2018 vote, to broadcast a story about past FIFA corrupt practices, none of which happened in the 21st century. Not much news value there.

The English also have fought charges of collusion among the other candidate countries, like Spain promising its 2022 votes to Qatar for that country's votes for 2018. One week after FIFA exonerated both countries, the head of Qatar's bid committee formally announced that he would vote for Spain/Portugal for 2018 and take other Asian votes with him, so FIFA's investigation of that deal falls far short of what went on at the Nuremberg Trials.

The 22 votes, for both 2018 and 2022, became official when Oceania (New Zealand and a bunch of World War II islands) yesterday accepted the loss of its right to vote. It lost that right when its representative was canned because of the Times story.

The first country to get 12 votes wins, no matter the round. After every round of voting without a clear winner, the lowest country will be eliminated until there are two countries. A tie will be broken by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

In every category that counts for a country's bid - stadiums, transportation, hospitality, security, soccer history - England easily leads the 2018 pack. The English bid includes 12 cities and 19 stadiums (four in London, including 2012's Olympic stadium). No other bidder comes close when all the categories are put together.

Which all means that Beckham has a lot of work to do. There will be some anti-English sentiment, just as there will be anti-American sentiment toward the 2022 bid. Since playing with the Galaxy in friendlies in Australia last week, Beckham has been jetting around the world, glad-handing for votes. And don't think that a framed photo with Beckham on a desk won't be enough to swing some voters. (Hey, if the U.S. is bringing in Bill Clinton, and Australians Elle Macpherson and Nicole Kidman are heading for Zurich vote-hunting, England going with the world's most famous professional athlete isn't that bad of a move.)

The host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be known by around 11 o'clock tomorrow morning. If New Year's Eve breaks out around Trafalgar Square at 4 o'clock in London, you can expect David Beckham to be in line for a knighthood very soon.

If not, the Times and BBC will have a lot more dirt to dig.


A brief synopsis on the bidding nations out to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup:


Thumbs up: If cleanliness were really next to godliness, World Cup-liness would not be far behind. But it's not, so this bid is hopeless, despite steering clear of all the backbiting that's gone on. Another time, it would be a strong bid, with good stadiums, transportation and fan support.

Thumbs down: This is the cleanest bid involved in 2018, but it's just the wrong time for the Low Countries to go for a World Cup. The 2018 World Cup goes to a High Country.

Odds to host: 100-1.


Thumbs up: Multiple stadiums to choose from, great transportation in cities and around country, security has all but eliminated hooligan problems. And the best soccer league in the world, the Premier League.

Thumbs down: An anti-England sentiment among some FIFA voters and the ongoing drama that is English soccer are the only drawbacks to the bid. But it could be a strong factor.

Odds to host: 3-1.


Thumbs up: FIFA loves to say it brought "civilization" to struggling countries through soccer (like this summer's World Cup in South Africa, 2012's European championships in Poland and Ukraine). Never having hosted a major soccer championship tournament fits into FIFA's definition of "uncivilized." Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has sworn that money will flow like oil to bring this off. And FIFA is sometimes spelled "m-o-n-e-y."

Thumbs down: Travel. Fourteen cities have been designated as proposed hosts, but the world has really heard of only two, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Anyone up for a game in Krasnodar?

Odds to host: 3-1.


Thumbs up: Strong national leagues, with Spain featuring two of the world's legendary teams with great tradition in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Spanish believe their 2008 Eurpean championship and last summer's World Cup victory count toward 2018.

Thumbs down: Portugal has stayed out of the backroom brawls, but the Spanish have blatantly denigrated the other bids and have not hidden efforts to swap votes with 2022 bidders. Spain claims it already has eight votes locked up.

Odds to host: 3-1.

What will happen: Very, very close. I thought Russia was the frontrunner because of FIFA president Sepp Blatter's love of being photographed with world leaders (like Nelson Mandela and now Vladimir Putin), and, despite his denials, he controls votes. And with Queen Elizabeth II not stepping forward and Francisco Franco truly dead, it looked like Russia's bid to lose. But the Russian bid is legitimately No. 4 for 2018. The 22 voters might really decide to do this on merit. I don't think Qatar can swing enough 2022 votes to Spain, but I think David Beckham can get votes. So it goes to England.