LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) Belgium and the Netherlands confirmed they would formally bid to host the 2018 World Cup following FIFA's decision to drop its rotation policy today, while English officials are likely to follow suit.
The British government voiced support for an England bid and the Football Association will discuss a ''potential bid'' later this week.
Italian officials, however, said they had no plans to get involved.
FIFA's decision opened the way for countries outside Africa and South America to bid to host the 2018 tournament and Belgium and the Netherlands, who co-hosted the 2000 European championship, were the first to positively respond.
Luxembourg would also be part of the ''Benelux'' bid, but the country's involvement would be restricted to hosting a FIFA congress rather than any matches, and, unlike the co-hosts, they would not be given automatic qualification for the tournament.
''We welcome the decision of the FIFA executive committee; we will now be launching a formal bid to stage the 2018 event in Benelux, with matches in Holland and Belgium,'' Alain Courtois, director of the Benelux bid, told Reuters.
''We have support of our governments and we will meet FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Nov. 14 to discuss our next steps,'' added Courtois, who said his group had been waiting for the rotation rule to be dropped before making their bid official.
British Prime Minister Gordan Brown said the FA would have the full weight of Government support if they decided to bid.
''I am delighted that FIFA have opened the door for the World Cup to come back to England,'' Brown said in a statement. ''By 2018, it will be 52 years since England hosted the World Cup.
The nation which gave football to the world deserves to have the greatest tournament back on these shores.
''With the Olympics in 2012, possibly the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the rugby World Cup in 2015 and the cricket World Cup in 2019, a Football World Cup in 2018 would crown what I believe can be the greatest decade ever for British sport.'' FA Chairman Brian Barwick said: ''It is exactly what we were hoping for and we will now discuss a timetable for a potential bid.
''I have always said that when the World Cup is next played in Europe, there is a very strong argument for holding it in England.'' The FA's board will discuss the bid on Wednesday.
World champions Italy, who hosted the World Cup in 1990, missed out on Euro 2012 to Ukraine and Poland partly because of hooligan problems in and around their stadiums.
Italian authorities are concentrating on clamping down on soccer violence rather than thinking about a 2018 bid at this stage.
''At the moment there are no plans to bid,'' an Italian Soccer Federation spokesman said.
Europe last hosted the tournament in Germany last year.
REUTERS AB BD2341