Nominations close today for the position of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund following last month's resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is regarded as the odds-on favourite to succeed him, with her closest challenger expected to be Mexico's central bank governor Agustin Carstens.

With much of the IMF's resources now focused on Europe's debt problems, Ms Lagarde is expected to keep the region's lock on the managing director slot, even though many experts said Mr Carstens is better qualified.

Both are still intensely lobbying world leaders for support ahead of the IMF's likely two-week process to choose a new chief from the shortlist.

Ms Lagarde left China yesterday for Lisbon for the African Development Bank's annual gathering. She then will travel to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Meanwhile, Mr Carstens is expected in India and will arrive in Washington next week.

But most experts give Mr Carstens only a slim chance at beating his European rival, given the depth of the IMF's involvement in Europe's crisis.

At least three names are expected in the hat when nominations close to replace Mr Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last month to face sexual assault charges in New York: Ms Lagarde, Ms Carstens and dark horse Grigory Marchenko, the head of Kazakhstan's central bank.

South Africa planning minister Trevor Manuel has ruled himself out of the running following speculation this week.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest on 14 May sparked a move by Europe to push another one of its own to lead the globe's key emergency lender.

That was met with strong calls from emerging economies to break the pact, dating back to the IMF's founding after World War Two, guaranteeing Europe the IMF leadership and the US the presidency of the World Bank.

But Mr Carstens, a former IMF deputy managing director, has failed to pull together a coalition of emerging economies or even secure solid backing from Latin America.

With the IMF board geared to decide the issue on consensus rather than a vote, most importantly, none of the key BRICs emerging powers - Brazil, Russia, India and China - has endorsed him.

'In private they have already conceded that they are mostly likely to back Lagarde,' said former IMF executive board member Domenico Lombardi.

Emerging economies 'see her as an important backstop to the European crisis,' he said.