Europe

Spain-Portugal 2018 World Cup: Football, sun and fun

Sunbathers on the beach in Barcelona (with a yacht race going on in background), July 2010
Image caption The organisers of the Iberian bid to host the 2018 World Cup have highlighted other attractions they have to offer football fans - such as sunshine and beaches

It would be the final flourish in a triumphant year for Spanish sport. After their victory in this year's World Cup, Spaniards are slowly starting to believe they could win the vote to host the competition in 2018.

The joint candidacy of Spain-Portugal has not been the bookies' favourite so far, but the man heading the Iberian bid is buoyant.

"We're very confident that enough people will vote for us," Miguel Angel Lopez told the BBC, shortly before leaving for Zurich.

"We believe we have seven or eight votes. That's a firm base to hope we could get more in the second round," Mr Lopez said, pointing to public statements of support from Fifa officials from Latin America and Asia.

More stadium seats

The joint bid will be presented in Zurich by the prime ministers of Spain and Portugal accompanied by stars of the game including Real Madrid's Iker Casillas.

But the team is banking on more than prowess on the pitch to see it through.

The Iberian offering includes a selection of 21 stadiums, providing more seats for World Cup fans than any other candidate country.

Image caption The Iberian bid offers seven "elite" stadiums including Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu

Seven venues are "elite" stadiums, already running - including the massive Santiago Bernabeu here in Madrid and Camp Nou in Barcelona.

Most sites are already linked by Europe's most extensive high speed rail network, and several key airports have recently been renovated.

Fun and sun

But the promotional video highlights something else. Full of tantalising images of food and wine, golden beaches and bikinis, there is just the odd stadium or football hero thrown in.

What Spain and Portugal are offering is "the best and most cheerful World Cup ever".

It is the Iberian trump card against the big bucks and "new frontier" status of Russia, and English talk of history and legacy.

No surprise, then, that most of the Iberian venues are dotted around the coast.

"As well as the football, I can say that everyone who comes here in 2018 will find radiant sunshine and fantastic hotels, they can eat well and enjoy the culture - and carry on enjoying themselves into the night," Mr Lopez enthuses.

"It will be fantastic - that's guaranteed," he says. "And on top of all that, there's the football."

Security concerns

The Iberian bid was marred by a claim of collusion with Qatar to share votes, but a Fifa investigation found no evidence to support that. Mr Lopez insists that is because there was "absolutely nothing" to find.

The other shadow concerns the joint nature of the Iberian bid - a set-up not best favoured by Fifa. Its final evaluation report highlighted concerns over security arrangements if there were two host countries.

But Portugal organised a successful European Championships in 2004 - experience and kudos that its bigger neighbour is keen to tap.

The Iberian bid also stresses "strength in unity" and a long, shared passion for football.

There is certainly plenty of public backing for the bid on both sides of the border: no danger of empty stadium seats come 2018.

"The Portuguese love football and we remember the amazing atmosphere here during Euro 2004. I think people just want to be able to live that again," says Barbara Ferreira, from Leiria in Portugal.

"Events like this lift the mood of a nation, and that's something we're definitely in need of," she says, recalling that Portugal and Spain are both in the grip of their worst economic crisis in decades.

The organisers insist that is no threat to their bid. After all, Russia is rich, but austerity is the order of the day in England as well. And such a major international tournament should make its hosts money in the long run, not cost it.

Image caption Hosting the World Cup would be a dream for many fans who celebrated Spain's win this year

So many here still feel Iberia is the best choice.

'Social religion'

"Tourists love Spain and it's easy to come here, so I think we have a good chance," says Paulo in Madrid.

"Football's like a social religion here. I've never seen so many people in the street as during this year's World Cup, and people do support this bid."

Spain's players are the undisputed champions on the pitch. Now, backed by Portugal, the country wants the chance to prove it is as good at hosting a World Cup as competing in it.

"I would love it," says Sergio Ramos, defender for Real Madrid - and Spain's victorious squad this summer.

"Especially after winning, we deserve to enjoy the World Cup here at home. So we're here, supporting the bid."

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