England face another stiff European challenge for the right to host the 2018 World Cup after Russia signalled their intent to bid for the tournament.
Spain and Portugal confirmed yesterday that they will launch a joint bid, and Russia’s likely candidacy was announced by the Russian Football Union president Vitaly Mutko, who is also the country’s sports minister.
The development is a serious one for the English bid because it means two rival heavyweight European contenders have entered the fray alongside another joint bid from Holland/Belgium.
Mutko said Russia would lodge an expression of interest before FIFA’s deadline of February 2.
He said: “In the near future we are set to make our first move and ask FIFA for all the necessary documents to prepare a bid for the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
“This issue is very complicated and demands a big investment. But we will definitely make the first step of submitting an application.”
UEFA’s support will be vital to the success of any European bid as there are nine Europeans on the 24-man FIFA executive committee who will take the decision in December 2010, including Swiss president Sepp Blatter.
Although England are regarded as early favourites in some circles, UEFA president Michel Platini has good links with Russia, it was his power base in eastern Europe which helped him win the presidential election two years ago.
Spain and Portugal’s candidacy is also powerful, as well as having backers in Europe, they can also expect support from the three South American members of FIFA’s executive committee.
Once they have registered their interest, bidding countries have until March 16 to complete a formal application.
Australia have already announced they are bidding too while China, Qatar, the United States and Japan may also enter the contest for 2018 or 2022.
FIFA announced last month there would be a simultaneous bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, though a country will not be considered for 2022 if their continent is hosting 2018.