Johannesburg - FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived on Friday to meet African football chiefs as his campaign for another four-year term moves into overdrive.
The 75-year-old Blatter is slugging it out with Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam, 13 years his junior, for the right to rule the international football kingdom over the coming four years.
A secret June 1 ballot at FIFA headquarters in Zurich in which each of 208 member states has one vote will determine whether Blatter wins a fourth term or Hammam becomes the first president from Asia.
There are 53 African votes up for grabs and many international observers believe the continent could hold the key to a race Blatter believes he "cannot lose" and Hammam rates a "50-50" duel.
Blatter secured the majority of African votes when he shocked Swede Lennart Johansson in Paris 13 years ago despite Cairo-based continental governing body CAF supporting the veteran European.
And when CAF president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon took on Blatter in South Korea four years later, he suffered a resounding defeat with many African delegates voting against their boss.
Blatter was elected for a third term unopposed and must now defeat the man who has ruled Asia since 2002 and backed the Swiss when he entered the ring against Johansson.
Hayatou and his CAF executive supported Blatter last Monday for another term, but it was merely a symbolic gesture as the African governing body does not have a vote and cannot dictate to its members.
While the Swiss is revered by many Africans for keeping a long-time promise and bringing the World Cup to the continent last year, money talks on a land mass where most football associations struggle financially.
Hammam has promised to double the yearly FIFA grant for countries to 500 000 dollars if elected and raise the costs-ceiling for special projects from 400 000 dollars to one million.
Officials from about 40 countries are expected in upscale Johannesburg suburb Sandton this weekend, offering Blatter a chance to get up close and personal in his quest for votes.
Among those he is expected to meet are regional football heavyweights Suketu Patel (south), Leodegar Tenga (east), Iya Mohammed (centre) and Aka Malan (west) while no officials from the north are attending.
Blatter could give the west special attention as there have been rumblings of discontent from the large football region with Liberia saying it will ignore the pro-Blatter CAF line and back Hammam instead.
"My decision to support the candidacy of Bin Hammam remains unwavering in spite of the CAF decision," Liberian Football Association president Musa Bility told reporters.
"Blatter has had his reasonable share of power at FIFA, having served as president for 13 years. Besides, Bin Hammam offers a better platform when it comes to football development in Liberia."