LONDON, Aug 23, 2010 (AFP) - FIFA inspectors began a four-day visit to inspect England's 2018 World Cup bid on Monday, with the campaign boosted by encouraging words from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
A six-man FIFA inspection team was greeted by Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at Downing Street and was to meet England manager Fabio Capello before taking a tour of Wembley Stadium.
A FIFA inspector takes a penalty shot at Wembley football stadium, London on August 23, 2010. AFP
The team will also assess facilities and stadiums in Manchester, Sunderland and Newcastle this week.
England face a tough battle in the bid to stage football's premier tournament for the first time since 1966, with Russia considered to be the front-runner.
England's hopes of staging the tournament were boosted when Blatter, who has already praised Russia's bid, said it would be "easy" to hold the competition in England.
He told the insideworldfootball website from Singapore: "The easiest way to organise the World Cup is to go to England.
"Everything is there -- fans, stadiums, infrastructure -- it's easy."
At their Downing Street welcome, Clegg told the FIFA team that the new coalition government would "continue to back to the hilt the 2018 bid".
"I believe this is an exceptionally strong, unbeatable bid. We in this government believe in it, we hope that you will believe in it," he said.
"We already have the infrastructure and facilities to host the World Cup.
"There really are very few nations that can claim the same passion that we have in England for the game of football.
Andy Anson, the bid's chief executive, said England could deliver "the most spectacular and the most successful World Cup ever.
"Over the next four days, we will show you that as a nation, in terms of football, this is one of the most passionate and diverse in the world.
"The combination of our passion for football, our technical excellence, our hosting experience, our established infrastructure and our commercial strength means that FIFA can be confident that we will deliver operational certainty, financial success and a fantastic and memorable tournament."
The absence of Prime Minister David Cameron from the greeting committee has raised eyebrows -- he is on a family holiday.
But Cameron has spoken by telephone to Blatter, who urged him to take his holiday, Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said.
"I'm not at all concerned because further down the line when they come to make this decision we are going to have David Cameron there and a series of other people who won't be meeting to meet the technical team that's here to look at our facilities," Robertson told the BBC.
Robertson said the fact London had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games was a huge plus point in favour of England's bid to stage the World Cup.
He added that a report by leading global accountancy firm PWC estimated staging the World Cup would be worth three billion pounds (4.7 billion dollars, 3.7 billion euros) to Britain's economy.
Last week the six-man FIFA inspection team, headed by Chile's Harold Mayne-Nicholls, visited Russia and, concerningly for those in England worried by Cameron's absence this week, highlighted the importance of their meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"He gave us clear government guarantees in support of the bid to host the World Cup," Mayne-Nicholls said.
England is also competing with the United States, and joint bids from Spain and Portugal, and Holland and Belgium to host the 2018 tournament.
The winning bids for the 2018 and the 2022 World Cup will be revealed on December 2. The 2014 tournament will be held in Brazil.