ZURICH (AP) — Nine candidates to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022 brought big hitters including David Beckham, the crown prince of Qatar and billionaire benefactors to hand over their bid books to FIFA on Friday.
"It is now the kick off," FIFA president Sepp Blatter told Australia's delegation, which led in alphabetical order.
Four bidders from Europe, four from the Asian confederation, plus the United States presented their technical documents at the headquarters of soccer's global governing body.
The formal handover started the final phase of campaigning, when FIFA will analyze the candidates' plans before its executive committee chooses the two tournament hosts in December.
While England and the United States say they have venues ready to host a World Cup, construction projects for Qatar and Russia would run to several billions of dollars.
"It will require huge investment, but nothing that can't be done," said Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, heir apparent of the Qatari state.
Sheik Tamim called on FIFA to award the Middle East its first World Cup, and break down barriers as it did by giving this year's World Cup to South Africa.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said an American World Cup needed no public funds and would average 76,000 spectators per match, a tournament record.
"We think we offer FIFA an extraordinary opportunity in the U.S., commercially and soccer-wise," Gulati said.
Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy said he recognized it was a difficult contest.
"We hope and pray that we might be the lucky country," said Lowy, a billionaire businessman leading the bid.
England's bid team was fronted by Beckham — the star of the show when candidates were brought together in Cape Town six months ago.
Beckham said his country had a passion for soccer running through its veins, and a diverse population that would welcome the world.
"Every team will turn up and have their own fans supporting them," said Beckham, who is vice president of England's campaign.
Blatter described England as "the motherland of football," and said new British Prime Minister David Cameron called him on Thursday offering government support for the bid.
The FIFA chief dropped several hints that England should focus on hosting in 2018, and teased bid leaders whether they meant to include "2022" on the cover of their book.
Europe is favored to be given the 2018 finals, with England and Russia competing against joint bids from Netherlands-Belgium and Spain-Portugal. All four are also in the 2022 race but would be barred if one gets the 2018 tournament.
Russia's bid team gave Blatter a letter from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has made hosting the World Cup a national priority.
Igor Shuvalov, first deputy prime minister, said Russia had become unofficial favorite in the 2018 race because the nation of 200 million people offered the most potential to spread the game.
"Russia can deliver more than England or Spain," Shuvalov said. "Development will be on a different level."
Australia and the U.S. also are bidding for both contests. Japan, Qatar and South Korea have focused solely on 2022, believing Europe is a lock for 2018 because the 2010 tournament is in South Africa and Brazil hosts in 2014.
The U.S. was last of the nine scheduled to meet Blatter and deliver its five-volume technical plan.
Each bid book explains how the monthlong, 64-match tournament would be organized, with details of at least 12 stadiums, plus training camps, hotels, security protocols, IT and medical support, and fans' entertainment.
Candidates must also give FIFA copies of government guarantees, contracts with each city and venue, and details of finance and insurance.
FIFA officials will use the bid books as the basis for technical inspections of each candidate, starting with Japan from July 19-22 and ending Sept. 13-17 in Qatar.
Chilean federation leader Harold Mayne-Nicholls will lead the inspection team, which also includes Dali Tahir, a member of the FIFA ethics panel. It is monitoring the bid process to ensure candidates do not try to influence FIFA officials with gifts and inducements.
FIFA's 24 executive members will choose the two hosts on Dec. 2 in Zurich.
Five of the current bidders have previously staged a World Cup: England (1966), Spain (1982), U.S. (1994), and Japan and South Korea (co-hosted 2002).
Five nations — Brazil (1950 & 2014), France (1938 & 1998), Germany (1974 & 2006), Italy (1934 & 1990) and Mexico (1970 & 1986) — have been awarded two World Cups.