England's opponents to host the 2018 World Cup have been cut to four rival bids after Australia announced they have pulled out to concentrate on a challenge for the tournament in 2022.
Only USA still remain as a non-European bidder for 2018 although they will now be under intense pressure to target 2022 alone which would leave the field open for England, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium to battle it out.
It has been mooted for months that 2018 is likely to go to Europe so Football Federation Australia's decision is not a huge surprise.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said: "The FFA have displayed an exemplary level of solidarity with Europe and the European bidding nations and were among the very first to enter into an open and constructive dialogue with me after it became apparent that there was a growing movement to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe.
"Their announcement of today, therefore, to henceforth focus solely on bidding for the 2022 FIFA World Cup is a welcome gesture that is much appreciated by FIFA's leadership and executive committee. We wish to thank Mr Lowy, the FFA and the Australian Government".
FFA chairman Frank Lowy confirmed his the decision to withdraw from the 2018 bid and concentrate on 2022.
"We have been in discussion with FIFA for months and it is that trusting relationship with the leadership of the governing body that has caused us to focus on 2022 and decide to leave the field for 2018 to European contenders."Reuse content