ZURICH — With Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulling out of helping Russia's 2018 World Cup bid, Wednesday's frantic last day of politicking was left to other leaders, princes, actors and models to work their charm on the 22 voters.
Putin's withdrawal and allegation that the bidding process had turned into an "unfair competition" following scandals targeting FIFA dented Russia's stature as a favorite to host the event.
England continued to lead the sporting diplomacy, with Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham seeking to sway FIFA's executive committee for their 2018 bid.
The Spain-Portugal bid again kept its lobbying behind closed doors, but heard Wednesday it will not be able to count on the injured Cristiano Ronaldo in its buildup to the 2018 World Cup vote. Real Madrid said the Portugal winger needs to recover for Saturday's match against Valencia.
The Belgium-Netherlands bid, considered the outsider for 2018, was hoping to be boosted by the arrival of Johan Cruijff.
Ahead of Thursday's 2018 presentation and vote, the five 2022 candidates — the United States, Qatar, Australia, Japan and South Korea — made to make their final presentations to the executive committee Wednesday.
For the United States, it brought a video message from President Barack Obama and a botched presentation from Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who missed a page from his script. Australia lined up all the elegance of superstar model Elle Macpherson to offset their funky presentation.
Putin's unexpected no-show was exactly the last-minute drama that could overturn months of preparations and planning that go into getting the right to host the globe's biggest single-sport event.
Putin made a high-profile trip to Guatemala in 2007 to help secure the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi, having announced that trip more than a week in advance. This time, his no-show came only a day ahead of the vote.
Putin said Wednesday he would not go to FIFA headquarters to exert even more pressure on the voters after the corruption allegations of the past weeks. And he called on other international leaders to do likewise.
"As are all fair-minded people, I am very disappointed about the recent allegations against certain FIFA executive committee members," Putin said. "I view that as unfair competition."
Recently, a British newspaper sting led to the expulsion of two FIFA executive committee members and a BBC documentary accused others of taking secret payments.
Putin's absence would likely affect the balance of votes between the four candidates for the 2018 tournament.
Beckham has been lobbying since his arrival on Tuesday and has met with several executive committee members.
"I've known how important it is to keep fighting to the last minute," said Beckham, the former England captain who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Earlier, Prince William worked his charm during his pre-dawn breakfast to make England's case. And even British Prime Minister David Cameron put himself into shuttle diplomacy, flying in between Zurich and London to mix parliamentary politics with high-profile lobbying.
And after the BBC had raised corruption allegations early this week that were seen as potentially harmful to the bid, another icon of the British media pleaded with FIFA to ignore it.
The Sun tabloid had a huge picture of the World Cup trophy alongside an "Open Letter to the 2018 World Cup Committee."
"Dear FIFA, The BBC may have given you the false impression that the people of England do not wish to host the World Cup," the ad read before going to say the whole nation backed the bid.
Russia's situation was more of a riddle 24 hours ahead of decision. Despite Putin's harsh comments, the Russian bid said it was unaffected.
"This does not downgrade our bid. The value of our bid stays the same," Alexey Sorokin, chief executive of the Russian bid, told The Associated Press.
He did acknowledge that "the presence of the prime minister would have been an additional inspiration."
Putin's replacement representing the Russian government on stage early Thursday will be first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov.
On Wednesday, the 2022 bidders had their moment, with former President Bill Clinton leading the cheers for U.S. strength through cultural diversity, promising a World Cup where every qualifying nation will have native backers living in the United States.
While the American bid stressed diversity, South Korea went for unity.
It highlighted the prospect of peace and a united Korea, insisting that football had the power to bring people closer and would be an agent of political change to end the standoff between North and South on the divided peninsula.
South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik went to the World Cup in South Africa this year, where both South and North Korea played, to highlight the prospect of unity.Comment on this story
"We saw that football has the power to bring people together, to end enmity and to spur reconciliation," Kim said. "It gave us a vision that the World Cup in 2022 can be a celebration of peace for Korea and the world."
Qatar is considered a dangerous outsider to host the first World Cup in the Middle East and downplayed criticism that it would be simply too hot in the desert nation to host the event.
"It would be a bold gamble and an exciting prospect, but with no risk," bid chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi said through a translator. "Heat is not and will not be an issue."
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Rob Harris contributed to this report from Zurich, Associated Press writer David Nowak from Moscow.