Potential 2030 World Cup hosts include Uruguay/Argentina, England
MOSCOW -- Now that the hosts of the 2026 World Cup have been decided, the race will begin for the honour of staging the centenary tournament in 2030.
Although Argentina and Uruguay have sentiment on their side for a joint bid, 100 years after Uruguay defeated Argentina in the 1930 World Cup final in Montevideo, it will not simply be a case of FIFA handing the tournament to South American neighbours. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin insisted in 2017 that, after what will be a 12-year wait, that it is "clearly Europe's turn in 2030" -- with England and Spain both long overdue a World Cup -- and both Australia and China will believe their time has come.
So how will the race for 2030 shape up and what are the prospects of the countries most likely to enter the race?
From a football perspective, Argentina and Uruguay have a strong hand.
Two-time winners Uruguay have not hosted the World Cup since 1930, while Argentina, also double world champions, will have waited 52 years for their turn to stage the tournament again by the time 2030 comes around. They are two heavyweight nations, providing some of the greatest players the game has seen, past and present, and both nations would embrace the World Cup with passion and excitement.
Question marks will be raised over the ability of both countries to cover the costs of staging a 48-team World Cup, in terms of stadium redevelopment and infrastructure. The time difference in South America would also be an issue for the European nations, who dominate the broadcasting revenue during World Cups.
But in terms of romance, competitive hosts and football history, Argentina-Uruguay will take some beating.
If UEFA win the political battle by persuading FIFA that the 2030 tournament should be staged in Europe, then England will be at the front of the queue.
Symbolically, the centenary World Cup in the country that claims to have given football to the world would be a big tick in England's box. With the Premier League the most popular domestic league across the globe, a wealth of modern stadiums capable of hosting games, proven infrastructure and a football-crazy population, England will be a safe bet for FIFA, both on the pitch and off it.
But the English Football Association is still scarred from its failure to win the race to host the World Cup in 2006 and 2018, and there remains plenty of bridge-building to be done before England can expect to win the political battle that comes with a World Cup bid.
Not since 1966 has England staged the World Cup -- Germany have hosted it twice since then -- and no other major European nation has endured a longer wait, but that may yet count for nothing.
Spain has not hosted a major tournament since the 1982 World Cup, and failed in a joint bid with Portugal to stage the 2018 competition.
Few can match Spain for pedigree in a football sense, with their club sides ruling European competition in recent years, with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid dominating the Europa League just as Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the teams to beat in the Champions League. They changed the face of the game with their 2010 world championship and boast iconic stadiums such as the Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou.
But there is currently little appetite within Spain for a World Cup bid due to the economic crisis that has hit the country hard in recent years. No attempt was made to compete with Germany and Turkey for the right to host Euro 2024 -- Spain has not hosted a European Championship since 1964 -- and the prospect of updating several stadiums, or building new ones, would be an expensive one.
But if UEFA claim the 2030 ticket, Spain may see themselves winning a head-to-head with England due to the politics involved.
There remains anger and bitterness down under over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, when the Australian bid was eliminated in the first round of voting after receiving just one vote.
A world-renowned sporting nation, Australia has always intrigued FIFA, but the downsides of taking the tournament there have always outweighed the potential positives.
Great cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane could easily accommodate the teams and supporters and the host nation, which produced a memorable 2000 Olympics in Sydney, would expect to stage a first-rate World Cup.
But the time difference in Australia would hit broadcasting revenues hard in Europe, with supporters from all competing nations facing lengthy trips to watch their teams in action. FIFA's determination to take the World Cup to new countries has seen South Africa and Russia win the right to stage it, with Qatar also claiming the honour in 2022, so Australia could prosper on that basis.
New Zealand has expressed an interest at ministerial level to mount a joint bid with Australia, but that would necessitate an Asia-Oceania collaboration, which may count against its chances of success.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has made it a priority to increase his nation's global influence in football, and hosting a World Cup is seen as the centrepiece of his grand ambition.
China's influence is already growing, with leading clubs across Europe now owned by Chinese investors and Chinese money also flowing into FIFA's coffers due to the Wanda Group paying to be one of seven official partners, and three of the five 2018 tournament sponsors are also Chinese companies. The Chinese Super League is now established and the country is capable of building the stadiums and infrastructure required for a World Cup.
But with Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup for Asia, China must find a way to persuade FIFA to overlook UEFA and take the tournament back to Asia after just an eight-year gap.
No other bidding nation can compete with China financially, so they hold an ace card with their vast wealth, but the best hope for the Chinese could be to use 2030 as a dry run for a bid to host in 2034.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_