Last week, the United States dropped out of contention to host the 2018 World Cup, deciding instead to concentrate its efforts on beating out Australia, Qatar, Japan and South Korea for 2022. This ensures that Europe will host in 2018 and emboldens England’s chances. Also vying for 2018 are Russia, a joint Belgium/Netherlands entry and an Iberian Peninsula bid from Spain and Portugal. All four bids draw upon strong football heritage so England will certainly be up against it ahead of Fifa’s decision on December 2. This date is still secure despite recent controversy involving alleged vote-selling.
Here’s an in-depth look at each of the countries bidding for the 2018 World Cup, including England:
Current Odds 25/1:
Belgium hosted Euro ‘72 while co-hosting Euro 2000 with the Dutch. The Netherlands are three-time finalists and have produced some of the finest footballers to ever grace the pitch. While both countries are modest in population, with a combined population of approximately 26 million, they are wealthy nations with advanced infrastructures located near all the other giants of Europe. Of course, Brussels was the site of the 1985 Heysel tragedy which claimed 39 lives before Juventus’ 1-0 win over Liverpool for the European Cup. Heysel has since been completely rebuilt as the King Baudouin Stadium. While neither nation has the required 70,000+ capactiy stadium to host a final, both Rotterdam and Brussels are exploring building one. The Netherlands is also home to the modern Amsterdam Arena and Philips Stadion in Eindhoven. Of course, owing to the Walloon-Flemish beef, Belgium may not even exist as a united nation by 2018.
Current Odds 6/1:
Spain are current European and World Champions. Fully liberated from their former status as underachievers their dominance over the sport makes the benign words “tiki-taka” sound fearful. In 1992, Sevilla hosted an international exposition while Barcelona hosted a magnificent Summer Olympics. Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup and is home to two of the most legendary grounds in the world, the Camp Nou in Barcelona and the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. Portugal has been represented by three of the most handsome footballers in history, Eusebio, Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal finished third at the 1966 World Cup in England, fourth in 2006 and reached the final of Euro ‘04 which it successfully hosted. While Portugal makes the bid intriguing, the fact that Spain has hosted far more recently than England must work against the Iberian proposal. Would make for a lovely summer holiday though.
Current Odds 6/4:
The now-disbanded U.S.S.R., drawing upon not only Russia but the other 14 Soviet Socialist Republics was a major force in international football. The Soviets won the first European Championship in 1960 and finished fourth at the World Cup in 1966. Their legendary keeper Lev Yashin is considered amongst the best to ever play the position. Since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R, great sums have gone into building the Russian side, such as the £20 million Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich contributed towards a national football academy (meanwhile England’s National Football Centrelanguishes). Two Russian clubs have recently lifted the Uefa Cup; CSKA Moscow in 2005 and Zenit St. Petersburg in 2008. The national side stormed to the semi-finals of Euro ‘08 with an entertaining brand of football. The Russian Premier Football League currently ranks seventh on Uefa’s table of European leagues. While the Russia of today is ostensibly a democracy, authority is still highly centralized. Whatever needs to be built will be built. Russia is, by far, the most populous soccer power to have never hosted the World Cup (unless you include Nigeria). Of course, the massive distances between cities will be a problem. A bigger concern is that many of the stadiums in the Russian bid have yet to be built. Still, Russia must be considered the strongest threat to England’s bid.
Current Odds 4/5:
When England hosted and won the World Cup in 1966, the host grounds were the original Wembley, Everton’s Goodison Park, Sheffield’s Hillsborough, Sunderland’s Roker Park, Aston Villa’s Villa Park, Manchester United’s Old Trafford, Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park and the White City Stadium in London. Villa Park, Hillsborough, Old Trafford and Wembley were used again during England’s hosting of Euro ‘96 alongside Liverpool’s Anfield, Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, Leeds United’s Elland Road and Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park. The candidate cities for England 2018 are Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Sheffield and Sunderland. Each city save Milton Keynes is home to grounds with rich history. Bristol and Plymouth plan new grounds, while many others would certainly be redeveloped should England get the bid. A new stadium in Liverpool? Who knows. It doesn’t hurt that Fifa brass seem enthralled with bid spokesperson David Beckham. England’s inter-city rail service is creaky but effective. After successive World Cups in Brasil and South Africa Fifa may want to play it safe and have the Cup played in a country with most of the stadiums already in place and with an infrastructure already equipped to handle such an event. Easy on the official anthems this time around ‘tho, lest the sight in 1996 of the triumphant German team singing “Football’s Coming Home” gets repeated (at the 3:40 mark).
Please share your thoughts on the bids and which cities and grounds should host if Fifa awards the 2018 World Cup to England.