Australia drops out of race to host 2018 World Cup
Australia have switched their attention to winning the bid for the 2022 World Cup
England's chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup have been handed a boost after Australia dropped out of the race to focus on the 2022 tournament.
The United States is now the only non-European bidder still involved.
Russia and joint bids from Holland and Belgium, and Spain and Portugal are the other possible locations for the event.
"It became apparent that there was a growing movement to stage the 2018 World Cup in Europe," said Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke.
"The FFA [Football Federation Australia] has displayed an exemplary level of solidarity with Europe and the European bidding nations.
"Their announcement, 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 the FFA and the Australian Government."
FFA chairman Frank Lowy confirmed the decision to concentrate on 2022, again strongly hinting that the tournament will head to Europe in 2018.
"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," he said.
England's bid to host the tournament was thrown into disarray last month when Lord Triesman was forced to resign after being caught up in a tabloid sting.
The FA chairman, who was was promptly replaced by Geoff Thompson, was taped suggesting Spain could drop its bid if rival bidder Russia helped bribe referees at this summer's World Cup.
However, England are still favourites to host the event, with those odds likely to be cut further still after Australia's decision to pull out.
The previous World Cup in 2006 was held in Germany, while France won the tournament on home soil in 1998. Following this year's tournament in South Africa, the 2014 competition will be in Brazil.
Australia will certainly be up against Japan, Qatar and South Korea to host the 2022 event, plus US if, as expected, they follow the FFA's lead and withdraw to concentrate on a bid in four years.
The countries who miss out on winning the 2018 bid will also be back in contention.
Fifa's 24-man executive committee will decide the host of both events in December.
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