Last-minute twist cruels World Cup dream

This is starting to feel like the Socceroos v Iran in 1997 all over again.

Australia's joint bid with New Zealand to host the 2023 Women's World Cup looked home and hosed after Japan pulled out this week leaving Colombia as our only competition.

FIFA's technical evaluation of both bids made it a one-sided contest with our superior score of 4.1 to Colombia's 2.8 surely enough to convince voters to do the right thing.

But as we found out in 1998 World Cup qualification at the MCG a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous score in football - and as we found out while bidding for the men's 2022 World Cup, never trust FIFA. Never.

Which bring us to a report from The Guardian today which claims UEFA, the powerful ruling body of European football, is encouraging its members to back the South Americans.

The Guardian reports UEFA has rubbished the technical reports in a recent meeting and argued the Women's World Cup is a "development tournament" and should go to a country with a poor track record in women's football that could leverage hosting rights as a catalyst for change. UEFA has nine of the 35 votes in tonight's election, which is being done by video conference.

There's still hope though.

Just when we thought we had it. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Just when we thought we had it. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

UEFA traditionally sides with fellow world football power CONMEBOL (South America), so the Aussies and Kiwis wouldn't have been banking on getting much support from them in the first place.

With Asia and Oceania (nine combined votes) certain to side with a trans-Tasman tournament, the key blocs will be Africa (seven votes) and North America (five votes).

Japan, whose bid had received the second highest score of 3.9, followed Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and a joint Korean bid in falling by the wayside as the Asian nation focused all its energy on the postponed Olympics.

FIFA's evaluation report gave Colombia a score of just 2.8 out of five as it raised doubts about the ability to provide investment required to carry out "necessary improvements".

In contrast, the Australia/New Zealand bid "provides a variety of very good options in terms of sporting and general infrastructure. It would also appear to present the most commercially favourable proposition".

The joint proposal would see games played in 13 venues across 12 cities, with the opening match at Eden Park in Auckland and the final in Sydney. Seven cities in Australia would host games, and five in New Zealand.

"When you look at our bid, we think it ticks a lot of the boxes," Football Federation Australia chairman Chris Nikou told AFP in an interview this week.

Colombia plans to use 10 venues with the opening match and final in Bogota. All are existing stadiums, but one - in Cucuta in the north of the country by the Venezuelan border - requires "significant renovation work".

The FIFA report also highlighted security worries. "Although there has been a significant reduction in domestic terrorism, some concerns remain in terms of the potential impact of crime on tournament stakeholders," the FIFA report states.

The 2023 tournament is set to be the first 32-team women's World Cup, up from the 24 nations who competed at last year's finals in France, won by the United States.

- with AFP



Originally published as Last-minute twist cruels World Cup dream