Luis Figo pulls out as FIFA presidency becomes a two-horse race
The battle for the FIFA presidency will be a two-horse race after Luis Figo joined Michael van Praag in withdrawing his candidacy on Thursday.
Dutch Football Association president Van Praag earlier pulled out of the race and gave his backing to Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who will now go head to head with Sepp Blatter for the top job in world football.
Former Portugal international Figo then issued a lengthy and scathing statement on his Facebook page, in which he said: "My decision is made, I will not stand in what is being called an election for the FIFA presidency."
Figo said he had agreed to run for president because "FIFA needs change" and he feels that change is "urgent", but said he had "witnessed consecutive incidents" that "should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic".
He said: "I travelled and met extraordinary people who, though they recognised the value of much that had been done, also concurred with the need for change, one that cleans up FIFA's reputation as an obscure organisation that is so often viewed as a place of corruption.
"But over the past few months I have not only witnessed that desire (for change), I have witnessed consecutive incidents, all over the world, that should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic.
"I have seen with my own eyes federation presidents who, after one day comparing FIFA leaders to the devil, then go on stage and compare those same people with Jesus Christ. Nobody told me about this. I saw it with my own eyes."
The former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder said it was not "normal" for an election to go ahead without any public debate, and that one of the candidates - Blatter - "doesn't even bother to present an election manifesto".
"That would be normal, but this electoral process is anything but an election," Figo said. "This (election) process is a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man - something I refuse to go along with.
"That is why, after a personal reflection and sharing views with two other candidates in this process, I believe that what is going to happen on May 29 in Zurich is not a normal electoral act.
"And because it is not, don't count on me."
Figo thanked those who have supported him and vowed to stand by the ideas he has circulated, predicting that the desired regeneration, "though it may take some time, will come".
The decisions by Van Praag and Figo to withdraw have left just one man - Prince Ali, a FIFA vice-president from Jordan - as a rival for Blatter, who remains the favourite to win a fifth term in office at the age of 79.
A statement from Van Praag's office said: ''After thorough deliberation and reflection with different involved parties and stakeholders, Michael van Praag decided to withdraw his candidacy to become the next FIFA president and to join forces with presidential candidate Prince Ali Al Hussein.''
Van Praag and Prince Ali were due to hold a news conference in Amsterdam on Thursday evening to give more details about his decision.
Last week the Dutch FA president was insistent he would stay in the contest to the end despite feelings at UEFA that the biggest challenge to Blatter would come from a single candidate.
Prince Ali, Van Praag and Figo had all been campaigning on a reformist platform. Earlier this month Prince Ali said he would not pull out of the election.
''I will continue the race until the end,'' Prince Ali said then, adding he had received ''supportive and positive responses'' from the football federations he had visited and his manifesto had been greeted with a ''warm welcome''.