Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Japanese focus on 2022 but Qatar's in pole position

Following the advice of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Japanese have decided to ditch their attempt to host the World Cup finals in 2018 and concentrate solely on trying to acquire the hosting rights for 2022.

But in the eyes of many, the JFA are wasting their time even with a bid for the later of the two tournaments.

With the Europeans seemingly having lobbied hard to ensure they fight it out amongst themselves for the right to host the 2018 edition, the battle for 2022 will come down to Japan, South Korea, Australia, the United States and Qatar.

However, having hosted the World Cup as recently as 2002, the chances of either the Japanese or the Koreans winning the vote in December are, at best, slim. Both nations would be better served saving their money and not wasting everyone's time with futile bids.

The real contenders for the 2022 World Cup are the Americans, Australians and Qatar, with the Middle Eastern nation the most likely bet despite the obvious logistical issues that would otherwise prevent the country from hosting a tournament in the middle of the desert summer.

If the promotional literature is to be believed, temperatures in the high 40s will have little bearing on their ability to host the event, with plans afoot to produce stadium cooling technology that will see games played in a relatively cool 26 degrees.

But more importantly - within FIFA circles at least - the Qataris are leading the political battle to secure as many of the 24 votes on the FIFA Executive Committee as possible.

Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam is believed to have brokered a deal that will see him set aside his ambitions to become FIFA president next year in return for Sepp Blatter's backing for the Qatar bid, something Blatter alluded to on a recent trip to Doha.

Blatter is desperate for a fourth term as FIFA president and is willing to cede to Hammam's desire to be seen as the man who secured his home nation the rights to the World Cup. That should leave Hammam with the chance to run for president in 2015, when he will be 66 years old - still young enough (just) to do the job for at least one term.

How this has all played out within the other bids is open to debate. The Australians are known to be unhappy with Hammam's involvement in supporting Qatar's bid, believing he should be impartial given his position as president of the confederation.

Hammam will now use his considerable political clout to hoover up as many votes as possible for Qatar. He is well connected in Africa so should do well there, while he will also be likely to secure half of the votes from Asia - his own and that of Thailand's Worawi Makudi. That will be more than enough to take Qatar into the second round of voting and from there anything can happen.

Should Qatar win they will then have the perfect showcase for their abilities at the 2011 Asian Cup finals, which they will host in January next year. The preparations for that have begun in earnest and the country is sure to do a more than decent job in a nation where the facilities are second to none.

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