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View from the opposition camps

World Cup trophy

England face stiff competition from Spain-Portugal, Russia and Netherlands-Belgium in the race to host the 2018 World Cup.

But what are the strengths and weaknesses of England's rivals and how much enthusiasm is there amongst locals for the respective bids?

BBC Sport went in search of answers...

SPAIN-PORTUGAL

Could the Fifa executive committee put aside its apparent antipathy to a joint bid and name Spain and Portugal as co-hosts for the 2018 World Cup?

The less-than-smooth running of the 2002 finals in South Korea and Japan, both of whom are bidding for the 2022 World Cup, is still remembered bitterly in the hallowed hallways of Fifa's Zurich headquarters, while the organisation of the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine is still fraught with problems.

However, the successful staging of Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland showed that two countries can get along without political bickering and infighting.

Spain celebrate their 2010 World Cup sucess
Spain added the World Cup to their European Championship crown in 2010

Despite close physical and financial ties, including a common border and currency, Spain-Portugal's plans to co-host the tournament were flagged up as a worry in Fifa's evaluation report.

Aside from the fact that the bid has emphasised its unity, highlighting the positive virtues of a joint bid and emphasising the harmony within the single organising committee, there are a lot of plus points as well as widespread belief in both countries that it can win.

Confidence is riding high enough for bid chief executive Miguel Angel Lopez to break cover and name some of the people he expects to vote for Spain-Portugal.

Since the summer, the bid's PR machine has worked overtime on its domestic audience and there can be few Spaniards who are now unaware that a World Cup campaign is being waged in their name.

Security is also no longer a concern, as it once was, now that Basque separatist group ETA has renounced violence

Spain and Portugal are in the grip of a severe economic recession and the construction work alone on the planned host venues has been budgeted at 1.2bn euros. However, financial issues have so far not seriously affected public support.

Although figures very, most people in the two football-mad countries believe that a World Cup would be worth the cost even in the current economic climate.

If the tournament did come to Spain and Portugal, there is little doubt that the matches would be well attended. There would be very few worries or subsequent controversies about empty stadiums, which is one factor overshadowing Russia's bid.

Security is also no longer a concern, as it once was, now that Basque separatist group ETA has renounced violence.

Phil Minshull, Spain Sports Services

NETHERLANDS-BELGIUM

Stadiums with floodlights powered by wind turbines, players wearing degradable football kits and pitches that generate energy when players run on them - the 2018 World Cup will be the greenest ever if the Netherlands-Belgium bid comes out on top on Thursday.

But the dream now seems a lot less likely after Fifa's risk assessment report highlighted concerns about government backing, hotel facilities and co-hosting the event.

Even before the report was issued, the Netherlands-Belgium camp knew they were widely seen as outsiders to win. In that respect, little has changed.

Ruud Gullit gets on a bike to promote the Netherlands/Belgium bid
Gullit gets on a bike to promote the Netherlands-Belgium bid

The joint bid has been keen to stress the broader potential of football and saw that as a key strength - the motto "Together for Great Goals" was meant as a direct appeal to Fifa, which also seeks to push the bigger picture when it comes to the influence of the game on communities.

Another lofty aim is lending support to coaches in developing nations as part of a "train-the-trainer" scheme, based on the famed Dutch school of football, which aims to improve skills and the overall quality of the game.

Bid organisers claim the tournament will leave half the ecological footprint of its predecessors. A sustainable stadium toolkit is on offer to make other venues more eco-friendly, too.

Which brings us to bicycles - two million of them will be freely available for fans with tickets - and to Dutch football legend Ruud Gullit, who has hopped on one to promote the bid.

Gullit stresses that the Netherlands and Belgium have jointly organised successful championships before - Euro 2000 - and deserve a chance to become World Cup co-hosts.

The limited size of the Low Countries will make the tournament compact, reducing travel times.

Their accessibility in the heart of Europe, their modern infrastructure, the multi-lingual skills of their populations and the football passion all serve to make the bid attractive.

Yet despite this - and despite the deployment of big guns like Gullit, his fellow Dutchmen Johan Cruyff and Guus Hiddink as well as Belgium tennis star Justine Henin - there is a realisation here that the odds are in favour of the bigger nations.

Another factor is the large amount of work that needs to be done in both the Netherlands and Belgium to expand facilities and overcome domestic political scepticism.

While acknowledging the "social dividend" of staging a major sporting event, critics in both countries emphasize the high cost involved.

The non-football-crazy half of the nation would also prefer to see the Dutch capital focus on its bid to bring the Olympic Games back to the city in 2028

Hosting the World Cup may boost urban development, social cohesion and participation in sport but the economic gains are negligible and most of the proceeds will go into Fifa coffers.

Besides, the economic crisis and a string of massive building projects has left Amsterdam on the verge of bankruptcy.

The non-football-crazy half of the nation would also prefer to see the Dutch capital focus on its bid to bring the Olympic Games back to the city in 2028, 100 years after it first hosted them.

These considerations will not dampen the enthusiasm of the bid team, whose main concern is that their campaign will fail for the wrong reasons.

"The World Cup should not be monopolised by big countries," says bid chief executive Harry Been. "Hosting the World Cup in a smaller country would be a good stimulus for other countries to organise big tournaments."

Theo Tamis, Radio Netherlands Worldwide

RUSSIA

Critics point out that underdeveloped football and transport infrastructure in the country could be a serious problem but it is these weak points that could paradoxically win Russia the right to host the World Cup in 2018.

England and Spain-Portugal are focused on the fact that much of the necessary infrastructure and facilities are already in place.

Russia's trump card, however, is the fact that the country currently does not have these things and that the World Cup will have a huge positive effect on the country's infrastructure. Not only that, Fifa and world football will acquire a number of new stadia.

Russia's bid chief executive Alexei Sorokin and bid chairman Vitaly Mutko hold a press conference
Russia have to overcome transport issues if they win the 2018 vote

Neither Russia nor the Soviet Union has hosted the World Cup or the European Championship. If it wins this time, nearly all 16 proposed stadiums will be built from scratch.

The head of the Russian National Olympic Committee believes that preparations for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics show that the country will be perfectly capable of hosting the 2018 World Cup as well.

While Sochi 2014 still has some opposition from locals, attitude to the World Cup is different. Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the country.

Despite assertions that Russia is capable of staging a World Cup in 2018, the huge distances between venues is an issue.

For example, the distance between host cities Yekaterinburg and Kazan is 543 miles. If fans were to make this trip to see their team play, they would have to spend up to 17 hours on a train one way.

The free rail passes for ticket holders promised by the government does not eliminate the fact that these are seriously long distances to travel. High speed train travel is only an option between St Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.

In recent years, Russia's airline industry has developed rapidly but the country does not have the budget airline infrastructure that other parts of Europe have. Many airports in smaller towns and cities are in need of renovation.

Fifa's assessment of Russia's bid also graded it high risk in terms of its airports and international connections.

One piece of positive news in this respect is the recent inclusion of Russia's second biggest airline - S7 - into the One World alliance, which gives travellers access to more destinations in Russia.

And many people in Russia agree that development of the transport infrastructure for the World Cup would be one the best investments of the whole project.

Racist incidents in Russian stadia have also been highlighted by the Western press but the Russian Football Union is surprised by the attention given to the problem

In recent years, Russian clubs have won two Uefa Cups - CSKA Moscow in 2005 and Zenit St Petersburg in 2008 - as well as a European Super Cup in 2008 - Zenit beat Manchester United 2-1 in Monaco.

Yet the Russian top division, lags behind the leading European leagues in terms of organisation, while many supporters avoid stadiums for fear of violence and hooliganism.

Racist incidents in Russian stadiums have also been highlighted by the Western press but the Russian Football Union is surprised by the attention given to the problem.

Alexei Sorokin, who is not only chief executive of Russia 2018 bid but also chief executive of the national football association, told the BBC that the incident was not as significant as some would think.

"For some reason, everyone decided that this issue is extremely important for us. It is not," Sorokin said. "The Russian Football Union does not tolerate any manifestations of racism and we will use every measure to fight against it."

Pavel Bandakov and Rafael Saakov, BBC World Service



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see also
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England bid incredibly strong - Cameron
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Prince asks fans to back 2018 bid
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England stars join 2018 bid team
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Russia 2018 bid dealt Fifa blow
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England 2018 bid rated 'low risk'
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