Spain and Portugal have formally agreed to submit a joint bid to rival England's for the 2018 World Cup. The combined approach has been mooted for more than a year and was finally confirmed two weeks ago.
Portugal's football federation president Gilberto Madail and his Spanish counterpart Angel Maria Villar Llona yesterday signed an official agreement in Lisbon. Fifa, the world governing body, has issued a deadline of 2 February for letters of interest to be submitted and Madail told the Portuguese news agency Lusa: "This is an important day, the day we decide to go ahead and present a bid to Fifa."
Spain and Portugal will be tough rivals for England as they can expect full support from the three South American representatives on Fifa's 24-man executive committee, who will make the decision in December 2010.
Other countries bidding are Australia, and there is another joint bid from Belgium/Netherlands. Russia, China, Qatar, the United States and Japan may also enter the contest for 2018 or 2022. Fifa's executive committee announced last month there would be a simultaneous bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
The news comes days after England's 2018 bid leaders took steps to avoid the pitfall that affected the failed campaign for the 2006 World Cup by hiring one of those behind South Africa's success in landing the tournament in 2010.
Ian Riley, a South African, has been hired as technical bid director, a key role given the furore over England's failed attempt for 2006 when it was placed third behind Germany and South Africa by Fifa's technical inspection team. Riley fulfilled a similar role for South Africa's successful campaign, no easy task given that all their stadiums needed revamping or building from scratch. He has also been involved in advising on the organisation of the tournament in South Africa, in talks with Fifa on the 2010 budget and the hosting agreement. A statement from England 2018 said: "The technical bid will be England 2018 Ltd's response to Fifa's list of requirements for the hosting of the 2018 World Cup and puts forward England's compelling argument to host the event.
"Ian was previously the tournament director of the 20th African Cup of Nations that was successfully hosted in South Africa as well as being a member of the CAF Media Committee and a Fifa marketing instructor."
Spain/Portugal and England are just two of 10 bidders for the 2018 World Cup. Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, expects tough competition for the right to host the event. "We already have 10 potential bidders," Blatter said. "If we go from west to east we have Mexico, United States, Spain together with Portugal, England, a joint bid from the Netherlands and Belgium, I do hope Russia [will bid], Japan, Qatar, China and Australia."
South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup and Brazil is due to stage the tournament in 2014. Speaking in Russia, Blatter said: "I definitely expect Russia to be a candidate to host the World Cup either in 2018 or 2022."
Alexei Sorokin, general director of the Russian FA, said officials had yet to make up their mind about submitting a formal bid. "We haven't sent an official letter to Fifa yet as we're still waiting for the government to formally endorse our bid," Sorokin said.
It is the first time Fifa has adopted a simultaneous bidding process for two events – the 2018 and 2022 World Cups – which will be awarded in December next year.