World Cup bids picture clearer as U.S. focuses on 2022
The World Cup will definitely return to Europe in 2018 while the 2022 tournament will now be held in the United States or Asia after the battle lines for the bidding process were finally drawn up on Friday.
Europe was always expected to win the right to stage the 2018 tournament after a 12-year gap but that only became official when the U.S. announced on Friday they were pulling out of the 2018 race to concentrate on 2022.
The decision, which had been expected for months, left just four European candidates, Belgium/Netherlands, England, Russia and Spain/Portugal, in the running to host the 2018 finals.
Under FIFA rules, the World Cup cannot be held on the same continent for successive tournaments, so the 2022 finals must now be staged by either the U.S. or one of the four Asian bidders -- Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
Soccer`s world governing body FIFA, which will meet in Switzerland on Dec. 2 to select the 2018 and 2022 hosts, welcomed the American move.
"We have had an open and constructive dialogue with the USA Bid for some time now, after it became apparent that there was a growing movement to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe," FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said.
"The announcement of today by the USA Bid to focus solely on the 2022 FIFA World Cup is therefore a welcome gesture which is much appreciated by FIFA."
Australia and Japan withdrew from the 2018 race earlier this year after it became clear Europe, which last hosted the World Cup in 2006 in Germany, was almost certain to win the vote.
"We are confident this is in the best interests of the USA bid," U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said.
"We wanted to make the announcement now, still 48 days before the final decision, in order to make our intentions clear during the last part of our campaign."
Shortly after the U.S. announced their withdrawal, England formally pulled out of the running for 2022.
There were no immediate announcements from the other European bidders but they will all be expected to complete the formalities before the FIFA Executive Committee meets in Zurich in two weeks to finalise the voting process.
"England 2018/22 today confirmed to FIFA that it was withdrawing its candidature from the FIFA World Cup 2022 and will now focus on its bid to host the tournament in 2018," the England bid team said on Friday.
"This followed consultation with UEFA President Michel Platini on the most appropriate moment to withdraw.
"England 2018 is delighted it is now clear the FIFA World Cup will be coming to Europe in 2018 following the withdrawal of the United States bid."
This year`s World Cup was held in South Africa and the 2014 edition was awarded to Brazil under the continental rotation system that FIFA has since scrapped.
This year marks the first time FIFA has decided the venues for two World Cups at the same time.