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By ESPN Staff

Iberian threat to England's 2018 World Cup bid

Spain and Portugal are preparing to launch a joint bid for the 2018 World Cup in what would be a serious challenge to England's hopes of staging the tournament.

The announcement is expected in the new year and would mean four bids from Europe - and as many as 10 in all.

Senior UEFA sources have confirmed that a joint bid is now certain, after FIFA president Sepp Blatter said recently he was happy with two countries joining together as long as there was only a single World Cup organising committee.

It means England, Russia, Australia, Holland and Belgium (jointly), China, Japan, USA, Canada, Mexico and now Spain/Portugal have either said they will be bidding for 2018 or are considering doing so.

The Latin bid can count on support from the three South American members of FIFA's 24-man executive committee who will decide on the hosts in 2011.

Gilberto Madail, the head of the Portuguese football federation, said: 'England will be a candidate. But it has to be remembered that there are other countries, and Portugal have something to say.'

The European Championships in Portugal in 2004 were viewed as a great success, and Spain's hosting of the World Cup in 1982 is long enough ago to mean they are viewed as realistic contenders again.

Richard Caborn, the Government's World Cup bid ambassador, said: 'It is still unclear who we will face from Europe. But one thing is clear: we have got to win the European vote. My view is that we respect everybody but fear no one.'

All bids will have to pass a preliminary elimination contest to whittle down the number of candidates - according to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who wants to reduce the numbers to a shortlist of top bids.

The bidding countries would have to provide a number of guarantees about finances, organisation and accommodation in order to make the short-list.

Blatter, speaking at the Soccerex conference in Johannesburg, said: 'If there will be as many candidates as it appears there might be, then we will have to do what the IOC does and have a preliminary elimination and only go with those who have given the right guarantees.

'We are in 2007, and the 2018 World Cup has already started in a race of bidders from interested countries.'

Caborn, who is to meet FA chief executive Brian Barwick next week to discuss setting up a company to organise the bid, said Blatter's proposals were sensible.

'That is how the IOC do it, and I can see the sense of it,' he said.

The Asian confederation's president Mohamed Bin Hammam is keen for only one bid to come from their region to maximise their chance of success - Australia have confirmed a bid and China are likely to do so.

'We would have to come to a stage where we have to decide which one has the best chance and advise the other bidders to withdraw for the benefit of the other,' he said.

Bin Hammam insists he is not worried about England's bid.

He added: 'I think we do have the right to organise the 2018 World Cup in Asia again after 2002.

'I think Europe has already taken their chance in 2006 Germany and I would be saying there must be fair competition.'