Chancellor Gordon Brown threw his weight behind an English bid to host the 2018 World Cup today, claiming the tournament could help create "the greatest sporting nation in the world".
Accompanied by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Sports Minister Richard Caborn, Mr Brown toured the new Wembley Stadium in a high-profile show of support.
His visit coincided with the publication of a Treasury feasibility study into the possibility of holding the competition on English soil. Mr Brown said: "Everything is in place and we now have to go out and sell it and show that the enthusiasm of the young people is such that, if we win, this will be the greatest sporting decade for our country.
"We (would) have the Olympics in 2012, the World Cup in 2018 and I think we would be the greatest sporting nation in the world because so many young people will want to be sports men and women of the future."
The Chancellor said it was time for the tournament to return to the UK: "I have been around the world, I have been in Asia, America and Europe, and I think there is great support for England having it 50 years after we won the World Cup in 1966."
But Shadow Sports Minister Hugh Robertson dismissed the visit as a "stunt". He said: "Given our previous success the last time we hosted the World Cup in 1966, bringing the tournament to England in 2018 would be a great opportunity for the country.
"However, given that no decision on the 2018 World Cup is due until 2011 and that this should have been done on a cross-party basis, this can only be seen as a very silly publicity stunt.
"Gordon Brown would be much better off sorting out the mess he has made of the Olympics budget, or actually delivering on the other pledges he has already made about sport but not kept."
Ms Jowell defended the Government against accusations of "jumping the gun" and said its support had been crucial to London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
"The FA will, in due course, make their decision," she told BBC Radio Five Live. "What Gordon Brown and I are showing today is that a World Cup bid would have unqualified Government support."
FA chief executive Brian Barwick said Government backing was "a central part of any successful World Cup bid".
"This study underlines this Government’s commitment to bringing the world’s biggest sports events to these shores," he said.
"Sport also cuts across political lines and we realise that cross-party support is essential if England is to lead in achieving sporting success, both in terms of hosting and winning major competitions.
"Fifa has not yet announced which continent will be awarded the 2018 World Cup, but if it does come to Europe, then the FA will give very serious consideration to a bid.
"A World Cup in England would give a boost not only to football at all levels, but also other sports and the nation as a whole."
Today’s study said England was already well-placed to host the tournament in terms of stadium infrastructure - compared with Germany, which had to build three new stadiums in advance of the 2006 Cup.
Any FA bid for the 2018 tournament does not have to be submitted until 2010, with the decision on the host to be taken by Fifa in autumn 2011.
But England’s experience of an unsuccessful bid for the 2006 Cup prompted the decision to start planning early, following discussions over the past year between Mr Brown and Mr Barwick.
In a survey of 2,000 people conducted for the study, 90% were in favour of England hosting the tournament.
With the World Cup taking place in South Africa in 2010 and expected to return to South America in 2014, the earliest it can come back to Europe is 2018.
England is widely assumed to be the best-placed European candidate, as it will not have held the tournament for more than 50 years.
In that time, Germany, France and Italy have hosted it twice, while Spain has hosted it once.
England’s main rivals in 2018 are currently expected to be Australia and Canada.
Last month, Franz Beckenbauer, president of the Germany 2006 organising committee and a member of Fifa’s executive committee, said England was "the only country with an obvious chance" of hosting the 2018 tournament.
The report said six existing stadiums already meet all of Fifa’s requirements in terms of seating, capacity and pitch size: the new Wembley Stadium, Manchester United’s Old Trafford, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Newcastle United’s St James’s Park, The City of Manchester Stadium and Villa Park.
Five others meet all the requirements apart from the size of the pitch: The Stadium of Light (Sunderland), Anfield (Liverpool), Stamford Bridge (Chelsea), Goodison Park (Everton) and Elland Road (Leeds United).
The report concluded that England was well placed in terms of transport links and tourism, hotel and retail infrastructure as well as able to manage the security and policing challenges.