Wednesday, February 21, 2007

America hots ups the 2018 race

The USA is getting ready to launch a bid to host the 2018 World Cup Finals, according to its soccer federation president.

USSF boss Sunil Gulati told the Washington Post,

"We showed in 1994 that the U.S. is capable of hosting a terrific event. Now, with the way the soccer landscape in this country has evolved, we would be in position to put on a spectacular event."

No official bids have been launched for the 2018 tournament yet, but England's FA have already signalled their intention to run, confirmed by a UK government statement of support.

China is widely expected to launch a bid for the tournament and Australia has also been mentioned several times in world football circles as a possible competitor.

The likelihood of entries from three different continents (Football Federation Australia joined the Asian confederation in 2006) makes a nonsense of Sepp Blatter's much-criticised rotation policy.

With FIFA divided into six confederations, Blatter's law lumps any country with a 20-year wait before being permitted to bid.

The 2010 tournament is in Africa and 2014 in South America, with Brazil the firm favourite and Colombia also in contention.

Despite FIFA's 2003 announcement that the 2014 World Cup will go to South America, Australia and the USA have signalled their willingness to step in if FIFA judges Brazil, whom Blatter tipped as the probable winner last year, unable to meet the hosting demands. At present, none of that country's stadia meet FIFA World Cup specifications.

The USA have stepped in before, when they hosted the 2003 Women's World Cup at short notice following the SARS outbreak in China.

America's wealth, vast size and diverse population give it a strong claim to host international events of any nature, while the upsurge in football interest in the USA and its unrivaled array of modern stadia make it a serious challenger for any established football nation wishing to host the sport's premier event.

"Obviously FIFA knows what we are capable of and if something else changed we would be open to any other possibilities," said Gulati.

Despite a host of doomsayers, the 1994 finals were the most successful in FIFA history in terms of revenue and attendance (the average of 68,991 is still the largest in the competition's history).

Since 1994, America's stadia have improved massively.

Only four of the nine venues used in 1994 would be likely to be used for a World Cup now, as bigger and better venues have sprung up since in other cities.

Of those four, Chicago's historic Soldier Field, venue for 1994's opening game, has been rebuilt to a 61,500 capacity and Foxboro, where Diego Maradona scored his last World Cup goal before running like a dervish to the camera for a memorable celebration, has transformed itself into the 68,756 seat Gillette stadium.

England is still the prime contender, as Franz Beckenbauer in his role as UEFA's representative on FIFA's executive committee, confirmed recently, calling the home of football "a perfect country" to host the finals.

But with the USA and some other big hitters sure to enter the fray, the Football Association has a real fight on its hands before it can celebrate the arrival of another World Cup in England.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile.

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