World Cup 2018: England's rivals

Holland-Belgium They may be rank outsiders but Holland and Belgium, co-hosts of Euro 2000, are pledging the greenest-ever games, a triumph of compactness and accessibility.

The Benelux bid is the standard-bearer for scores of smaller countries who are traditionally overlooked as World Cup hosts. "It will be the greenest World Cup ever with an environment protection plan the world has never seen before," says Ruud Gullit, president of the bid. "The games will be played in 14 truly green stadiums. Due to the short distance the next game is never far away and we will offer the fans a network of free public transport and two million free bikes." Despite their bullishness, their chances remain slim. Fifa's evaluation report had them in last place, especially on the crucial subject of government guarantees.


No-one outside the two countries can quite fathom out why the Spanish need their neighbours to push them over the line. But, with Fifa's three South American votes in the bag before the lobbying had even begun, it would surprise no-one if the Iberian bid got to the required number before anyone else. Maria Villar Llona is one of the most influential figures on the Fifa executive and has been a significant presence on the campaign trail ever since Spain won the World Cup in July. The Iberian Peninsula boasts the best high-speed train network of any candidate, while Spanish football has never enjoyed such high prestige. On the downside Spain is suffering some of the worst effects of the economic crisis and the bid has been rocked by the allegations regarding a reported vote-trading deal with Qatar.


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Will Fifa buy the argument that a vote for Russia, with its economic power and vast legacy potential, would be a vote for the future of football? The Russians believe they have a true message and, of course, have never hosted. The bid has full government backing, while Fifa president Sepp Blatter is keen to see the World Cup going to new untapped destinations. Security could be a concern as well as the massive distances between venues. What the Russians haven't got either – yet – are the stadiums. The Russians point out that they have hardly a rouble of government debt and are banking on Fifa plumping for a bold, vibrant and economically-powerful region to prove to the world that the new Russia is as open and modern a society as any nation in Western Europe.