AFC chief backs Australia bid for 2018 World Cup
Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam is ready to throw his support behind Australia's bid for the 2018 World Cup - but admitted England could also have a "fairly good chance" of hosting the tournament as the "birthplace of modern football".
The World Cup will head to South Africa in two years time, followed by Brazil in 2014.
However, with FIFA's controversial rotation policy now scrapped, there is a growing belief the showpiece event will then return to Europe - and England, along with Spain, Portugal and Russia, are among the nations to have expressed an interest.
However, there is also a strong intention to take the World Cup to Asia once again, with Australia - who only joined the confederation in 2006 - the front runners, while China and Qatar have also made some soundings.
With both Mexico and the United States, hosts in 1994, other keen associations, FIFA decided bids for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments will run in parallel, with the final vote taken in June 2011.
As head of the Asian confederation, Qatar national Bin Hammam would naturally champion their own cause.
However, the 60-year-old - who also sits on FIFA's executive committee - believes England would present a strong case, their last bid for 2006 having failed up against fellow UEFA candidates Germany.
"Although I would always support any bid coming from Asia as an obligation, I think England would have fairly good chances," said Bin Hammam, who was in London this week as a guest of the Premier League at the launch of their international good cause projects.
"We all feel, in general, that every three times [12 years] the World Cup has to come to Europe," he said.
"England does have positive points - they are the birthland of modern football and have hosted the World Cup once, and that was more than 40 years ago."
Bin Hammam added: "However, maybe there are also some other countries who have positive points also.
"Any good bid will have a chance to win. They have to convince the people. It is more of a public relations business."
Bin Hammam feels having the World Cup back in Asia, following the success of joint-hosts Japan and South Korea in 2002, would once again galvanise the region.
He said: "Qatar's bid is only speculation, so far I have only seen one serious bidder, which is Australia.
"They came forward and said 'we want to host the World Cup in 2018', and I am definitely very much in support of them and for the World Cup to take place in Asia again after 2002.
"We have seen the positive impact of the World Cup when it was organised in Asia in terms of reviving the interests of the people, especially those who are involved in governing the football.
"Having the World Cup again in Asia would have a very positive impact.
"I support an Asian bid, and that is going to be much easier for me and my colleagues on the committee if only one bid comes from Asia, that would be an advantage."
Australia was, along with New Zealand, a founding member of the Oceania Football Confederation.
However, given the OFC was the only body which did not gain direct entry to the World Cup, instead facing a play-off with a team from another confederation, the Socceroos pressed for a switch to the AFC and an improved chance of qualification as well as providing access to the AFC Champions League for their A-League clubs.
Bin Hammam believes it has proven a "win-win" situation.
"Both parties have benefited out of this relationship," he said.
"I led the discussions with the Australians, but it was not an AFC initiative, it was an Australian one.
"They felt, rightly so, that they could not improve their competitions, or their programme, with the situation they were in.
"Australia were miles ahead of anyone else in Oceania.
"It was a very clever move from them to come more towards to Asia, and we were very clever to welcome them.
"Now the stadia are relatively full and the clubs begin to get more revenue to spend, there is the new A-League, also, our competitions have also gone up, so everything has benefited."