FIFA president Sepp Blatter praised England as a strong candidate to host the 2018 World Cup, adding he expects a competitive bidding process.

“England is a strong candidate, because it is a strong country in football,” Blatter said after FIFA’s executive committee wrapped up two days of meetings on Saturday. “Spain is also strong, and if you look at all the candidates you see that the fight is open.”

Countries expected to bid are England, Australia, Qatar and Russia, plus joint proposals from Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg and Spain/Portugal. China, Japan, Mexico, the United States and Canada also might be interested.

FIFA’s executive committee agreed to a simultaneous bidding process for the 2018 and the 2022 World Cups. Interested countries can submit applications for either the 2018 or the 2022 World Cups, or for both.

Bid registration forms will be sent to countries in January 2009, and the two hosts will be decided in December 2010.

The 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa. Brazil will host the World Cup in 2014.

Although Blatter described soccer’s financial position as “comfortable,” he acknowledged the current economic crisis is bound to affect the game.

“Everybody is concerned,” Blatter said. “It’s like a tsunami, a tsunami has different waves and football will be touched by those waves.

“Clubs will be touched, then countries, then continents. So we have to have solidarity, so we can help those who are most affected by this crisis.”

Blatter also said a single team representing Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics would not affect the existing individual status of the four British soccer associations.

The Scottish Football Association opposed a single team for fear it would force the British teams to combine in FIFA competitions.

In other business, FIFA agreed to lift suspensions on Kuwait, Samoa and Peru.

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