The Football Association has won unqualified government backing for a bid to bring the World Cup to England in 2018.
Gordon Brown travelled to the new Wembley stadium with other ministers to make a declaration of support for moves to attract the tournament to England for the first time since 1966.
But the Government came under fire for jumping the gun over a possible bid, with the Conservatives describing the Chancellor's visit as a publicity stunt.
Despite growing controversy over the likely cost of London hosting the 2012 Olympics, a Treasury feasibility study recommended yesterday that England bid for the world's second-largest sporting event.
Mr Brown, almost certain to become prime minister by the summer, said England had the stadiums, transport links, accommodation and public support to make a strong case for staging it. But he said sports leaders had to start making the case now for hosting the tournament, even though the deadline for applications is three years away.
"The lesson of previous bids is you shouldn't wait, you should start early and you should build up support around the world by showing how you are going to do it," Mr Brown said. He added that hosting the Olympics and the World Cup in the same decade would help to create "the greatest sporting nation in the world".
The Chancellor, who said he would support all UK teams that qualified, said: "I have been around the world, I have been in Asia, America and Europe, and I think there is great support for England having it 50 years after we won the World Cup in 1966."
Fifa, world football's governing body, has not yet decided which continent will stage the 2018 tournament, although it is thought likely to select Europe.
Brian Barwick, the FA chief executive, said it would give "very serious consideration" to bidding. "A World Cup in England would give a boost not only to football at all levels, but also other sports and the nation as a whole," he said.
But the Tories criticised the Chancellor for "rushing ahead" with his statement. Hugh Robertson, the Conservative spokesman for sports, described it as "a very silly publicity stunt". He said: "Gordon Brown would be much better off sorting out the mess he has made of the Olympics budget or actually delivering on the other pledges he has already made about sport but not kept."
Franz Beckenbauer, a member of Fifa's executive committee, has said England is "the only country with an obvious chance" of hosting the 2018 cup.Reuse content