Ten candidates in race to host World Cup
Up to 10 bids from across three continents are expected to compete for the hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as the deadline approaches for countries to put their names forward.
Barring any surprise late entries, world soccer's governing body FIFA is due to publish on Tuesday a list of interested nations comprising four bids each from Europe and Asia and two from North and Central America.
The 1966 World Cup hosts England face competition on their own continent from Russia and joint applicants Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium.
Japan, who co-hosted the 2002 tournament with South Korea, will square off against Asian rivals Indonesia, Qatar and Australia.
Mexico and 1994 hosts the United States complete the list.
FIFA rules dictate that World Cup finals can only be staged on continents that have not hosted either of the two preceding editions, meaning that bidders will primarily have to concern themselves with seeing off their nearest geographical rivals.
If the European and Asian members of FIFA's executive committee fail to agree on the strongest candidate in their respective regions during the final vote in December 2010, the United States and Mexico could benefit.
South American countries were unable to put themselves forward for either tournament due to Brazil's scheduled hosting of the 2014 version.
Following South Africa's staging of the 2010 World Cup, African nations would have been free to apply for the 2022 event but none have chosen to do so.
The bidding process for world football's most prestigious and lucrative event has been complicated this time around by FIFA's decision to offer up two World Cups simultaneously.
FIFA is yet to reveal how the process will actually work or whether the 24-member executive committee will first choose the 2018 hosts before turning to the 2022 World Cup.
There is also confusion over FIFA president Sepp Blatter's publicly stated opposition to joint bids and the extent to which his views reflect official FIFA policy.
Blatter told reporters at a meeting of the South American Football Confederation last week that "as soon as there is a (sole) candidacy or three or four relevant candidacies, we are directly going to reject the double candidacies."
The FIFA administration has so far refused to comment on Blatter's claim, saying only in an emailed response to Reuters questions that full details of the bidding process will be sent to all applicants on Feb. 16.
Final bid dossiers have to be submitted by May 2010 with FIFA's executive committee casting its decisive votes seven months later.