Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 12 March 2009

World Cup Bid 2018: Belgium and the Netherlands

If a friend of yours said they were about to bet thousands and thousands of Pounds (or indeed any currency of your choice) on a horse that had a 12/1 chance of winning, you'd probably do all you could to talk them out of it - probably just after you called their sanity into question for being so stupid. As it is, that's pretty much what the Benelux countries (including Luxembourg) are about to do, only no-one will be able to talk them out of it and no horses will be involved.

When Sepp Blatter proclaimed that any joint bids for the 2018 World Cup would only be considered if there weren't any better ones from individual countries, you'd have excused Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for withdrawing their bid and forgetting all about the idea. Yet those same three countries working together in tandem were the first to submit their bid to FIFA and remain determined to show that the smaller countries of the world can host a World Cup just like the bigger ones.

You have to say they have a point. In the interests of equality, there shouldn't be anything wrong with allowing small countries to work together in the name of hosting such a big event. What FIFA have a problem with is the sheer logistical mess that's generated from having two sets of stadia, two sets of administrators, two sets of transport infrastructures and two sets of everything else that's probably complicated even to begin with.

But that's where the Dutch and the Belgians hold a trump card because back in 2000 they proved they could organise a large-scale football competition in the form of that year's European Championships. Everything went off smoothly in retrospect and the end result was a tournament that was regarded very highly among those people who saw it.

This time around, the Netherlands and Belgium will be joined in their bid by Luxembourg, but only from an administrative point of view. The Benelux triumvirate will put on a united front during the bid process, but the smallest of the three countries will only host a FIFA congress and won't be gaining automatic qualification to the finals as co-hosts.

So all seems above board and ship-shape… what's not to like, then? Well if there's any chink in the armour of this, one of two joint bids for the 2018 World Cup, it's that old chestnut of having enough decent-sized stadia. It's a factor that will probably crop up time and again with all the bidding candidates, but Belgium and the Netherlands are already onto this potential banana skin too.

In Brussels, a need for a 60,000-seater stadium has already been identified and any one of three plans could be chosen to achieve this. It's possible that the former Heysel Stadium (now known as the King Baudouin Stadium) will be upgraded but if that's not suitable, a new stadium could be built either in Heysel Park or the Schaerbeek region of the city.

Similarly over the border, a new 80,000 capacity stadium for Feyenoord is likely to appear just a stone's throw away from their existing one, while other Dutch venues are also seeking to upgrade, replace or create stadia that can hold the sort of crowds only a World Cup would provide.

And all these sites will be accessible via a very impressive set of transport links. Whether by road, rail, sea or air, the Benelux countries are easy to reach no matter where you're arriving from around the world. No problems ensuring the stadia get filled, then.

All of which leaves us with the feeling that this bid isn't quite the misguided foregone conclusion we thought it might be. These two founding members of FIFA from back in 1904 (oh - and Luxembourg) clearly know what they're doing, they've got everything worked out and have got their priorities right too.

When you think about it, Sepp Blatter's belief that two countries shouldn't co-host a World Cup is a load of rubbish, especially if those two countries happen to be among the most ardent soccer-loving countries on the planet. Given half a chance, the Netherlands and Belgium could actually surprise a lot of people by hosting in 2018. It's just a pity the short-sightedness of FIFA's top man might prevent it from ever happening.

Do you think Belgium and the Netherlands deserve the chance to host World Cup 2018? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think, or perhaps register your vote in our online poll at the foot of the page.

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