Monday, July 19, 2010

Eight days after the 2010 World Cup Finals bid farewell, the World's attention is now being focussed on the 2018 and 2022 Finals. Or at least Fifa's attentions are.

Fifa's inspectors arrived in Japan today in their first visit of a whirlwind tour to inspect the stadiums, facilities and infrastructures of the nine bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals.

The nine bids are made up from 11 countries across the globe, with two joint bids for hosting in there. The final decisions will be announced in Zurich on December 2nd.

With Brazil being the only official bidders to host the 2014 Finals, after Columbia withdrew their bid and Argentina's one never materialised, they will become the fifth country to host the Finals for a second time, following in the footsteps of Mexico, Italy, France and Germany.

Brazil hosted the 1950 Finals, finishing runners up to Uruguay who won their second title. The 2014 Finals though will be a much bigger affair and it amazes me that the country wants to go to the expense of hosting both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Hopefully they know what they're doing and as long as the football is a success, I'm not too fussed about the latter!

There has been a lot more interest in hosting the 2018 and 2022 Finals. 2010 and 2014 will have seen the southern hemisphere host two consecutive World Cups for the first time and as such, Europe is the continent favoured to host the 2018 Finals, with the 2022 ones seemingly up for grabs.

In fact four of the five bids for 2018 are from Europe, with only the US hoping to take it elsewhere.

The inspecting delegates will spend three days with each bidder, commencing with Japan this week, before moving to South Korea and Australia later this month. August will see visits to the joint bidders of Holland and Belgium, Russia, England and the other joint bidders of Spain and Portugal. September will see the final visits to the US and Qatar.

With Fifa's rotational policy in effect, if Europe is selected to host the 2018 Finals then the US will look to host in 2022, as they are bidding for both. Japan, South Korea, Australia and Qatar are only looking towards 2022 and all the non winning 2018 European bids would automatically be eliminated.

There's some tough decisions to be be made. I would much rather see countries who have not hosted before get a chance. In saying that though, there can be little doubt that both England and the US would put on a terrific tournament, in first class surroundings if given the nod for a second time.

I'm also not a big fan of joint bids. If I was going to the tournament, I would much rather just navigate my way around one country and see as many games as possible, as opposed to having to worry about border control and customs. As a EU country passport holder this doesn't matter too much for me obviously with the open borders, so if there were to be any joint bids, Europe makes a lot more sense than some other places in the world. It would also take away one of the European qualifying spots though, which can hit a country like Scotland hard. We struggle enough with what spots there are already!

Taking all this into account, this should leave Russia as my choice for 2018, but I can't see them being able to put on a more successful tournament than England, so despite my second time reservations, I have to give the English the nod for 2018, but only on the condition that they drop Milton Keynes from their list of host stadia.

2022 is a whole other matter. It would be just plain wrong to give either Japan or South Korea the Finals so soon after their last joint hosting. The US can put forward a strong case. It would be 28 years since they hosted it. I was there and it was fantastic. There are now plenty of soccer specific stadium built around the country, but most of them don't have the necessary capacities for hosting World Cup matches, so their bid is mostly made up of NFL and college gridiron stadiums.

Qatar is an interesting bid. They are clearly the money bid but it's hard to justify how giving the Finals to a rich country of around 1.3 million people can help build the game there and in the arab world. The potential horrendous heat issues should hopefully see this bid ruled out.

For me, 2022 should be all about Australia. They deserve their chance and it would be the last great continent to finally get to host the Finals. A winning bid for the Aussies would be a great boost to their A League and to football through Oceania. The potential costs to the country and the fact that none of their bid stadiums are primarily football venues is a concern, but they still get my nod.

I'd love to see Uruguay host the 2030 Finals but I'm not sure they will get the chance or even want it. It would just be nice to make a nod to the first Finals a hundred years on. And who knows who'll be hosting when Scotland win the thing in 2034!

For the ones that are in the balance just now though, my main hope is that FIFA make the right decisions based on footballing reasons and that money and other seedier aspects don't come in to it. I'm sure we can all trust them in that regards!

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