The field in the race to host the World Cup in 2018 has narrowed slightly over the past few days.
Firstly, FIFA President Sepp Blatter hinted that the sport's governing body is moving towards changing the rules to ensure the next-but-one World Cup will take place in Europe, a rumour confirmed by the Daily Telegraph's Paul Kelso today.
An all-European field for 2018 of England, Spain/Portugal, Belgium/Netherlands and Russia would in turn make 2022 a fascinating global scrap between football's new frontiers, with the USA taking on Japan, Qatar, Australia, Indonesia and South Korea.
The bookies have consistently ranked England as favourites for 2018 with Spain/Portugal in second place and Australia in third, so an Antipodean withdrawal would bump Russia up into contention behind the Western Europeans. The Russians, like Australia, are spending generously on their candidature, but are yet to win over the lion's share of FIFA's 24-man Executive Committee, who will make the final decision.
The Iberian bid's has the influence of FIFA Vice-President Angel Maria Villa Llona to count on, while the outsiders have finally given their bid a kick-start by bringing some big names on board.
Ruud Gullit has been named the President of the Dutch/Belgian bid, which has finally enlisted the notoriously single-minded Johann Cruyff, alongside a litany of low countries legends including Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Johann Neeskens, Enzo Scifo, Rene van de Kerkhof, Paul van Himst, Hans van Breukelen and Ronald Koeman.
I doubt they can win the hosting rights, but their bidding team could sure as hell beat any of the others at football.
The hosting rights for 2018 will be decided in December of this year.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
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