The United States' bid to host the 2022 World Cup has come under fresh threat thanks to a surprising surge of support for rival bidder Qatar.
U.S. Soccer had been feeling pretty good about its prospects for the Dec. 2 decision, but has been rocked by the recent revival of a Qatar bid that is still under investigation for alleged collusion but continues to gain backing within the 24-member FIFA Executive Committee nonetheless.
A FIFA source told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday that it is widely expected that Qatar will escape any sanction when the FIFA Ethics Committee reveals the findings of its investigation on Nov. 17.
"The word is that there will be nothing of significance, and no punishment," said the source. "And, amazing as it would have seemed a few weeks ago, they are starting to look like favorites."
[Related: Qatar proposes island stadium for 2022]
Collusion or not, it is no secret that Qatar enjoys strong backing from a voting axis that consists of members from Asia and South America and may control as many as seven of the 24 votes up for grabs.
This week saw more controversy, with American FIFA member Chuck Blazer revealing that he had translated a note passed by Spain's Angel Villar Llona to Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam at a meeting last month that read: "Congratulations, we are going to win." A joint Spain-Portugal bid is in the running to host in 2018, and also enjoys the support of the Asian/South American group.
A victory for Qatar would be a monumental triumph of public relations – and a huge lost opportunity for USA. Since the early stages of the process, the Americans have felt this was their World Cup to lose, with Australia initially seen as the only legitimate threat.
Yet Qatar has somehow managed to put itself forward as an intriguing choice, despite a series of glaring concerns. The Middle Eastern country would be the smallest nation ever to host the tournament, with a population of only 1.6 million.
With just one major city (the capital of Doha) in Qatar, a World Cup there would be the most compact in history, with fans from 32 nations packed together in close proximity. Summer temperatures are normally about 100F, although climate-controlled stadiums, mainly built from scratch, have been promised.
The contrasts between the American and Qatari bids could not be greater. Another World Cup in the USA could easily be staged at 12 huge stadiums, located all across the country. Thanks to the phenomenon of the NFL, finding enough appropriate venues is never going to be an issue.
The U.S. remains the most logical choice, but U.S. Soccer will have to play some fancy politics over the next few weeks to make its dream a reality.
Beckham future unclear
Reports indicating that David Beckham is ready to play on until his 40th birthday are premature, according to sources close to the player.
Beckham's deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy expires at the end of next season, and Yahoo! Sports understands that discussions over an extension will not commence until the end of the current campaign, at the earliest. Even then, Beckham likely will look at all available offers as his contract winds down.
However, it is expected that the 35-year-old, who missed eight months this year with an Achilles tendon injury, will wait to see how his body holds up in the early part of next season before deciding how long to prolong his career.
Reina on his way
Liverpool's new owner John W. Henry appears to have failed in his bid to keep hold of Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
According to multiple reports, Reina, who has been unsettled at Anfield for more than a year, has finally decided to officially request a move and looks set to head to pastures new during the January transfer window or next summer.
Henry was hoping to keep hold of Reina and Fernando Torres but will now have to give head coach Roy Hodgson funds to spend on a new goalkeeper. Germany's World Cup keeper Manuel Neuer has been mentioned as one possible replacement.
Hahnemann to return?
United States goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann publicly mulled a return to Major League Soccer this week, indicating he may switch to either the Portland Timbers or Vancouver Whitecaps when they join the league in 2011.
However, Hahnemann will be given some food for thought if his current club, English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, avoid relegation this season.
If the club stays up, owner Steve Morgan is poised to sign off on a new contract for the 38-year-old that would pay him more than $1.5 million over two years, far more than he could realistically expect in MLS.
The Wolves are currently in 19th place in the 20-team EPL.