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Football Australia’s chief executive, James Johnson, has conceded Fifa’s abbreviated process that left Saudi Arabia as the only bidder to host the 2034 men’s World Cup caught them by surprise, but that he hoped to beat the Gulf nation to the rights to the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup “on merit”.

Fifa surprised observers last month when it allocated the 2034 showpiece to Asia and demanded countries seeking to host the tournament submit expressions of interest less than one month after it opened bidding.

Saudi Arabia appeared to have been informed of Fifa’s plan prior to the announcement, after the country’s football federation declared its intention to bid within minutes.

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However, staff at FA had no such warning. The organisation’s boss said Fifa’s process “did catch us a little bit by surprise”.

Although FA previously said it was exploring the possibility of a bid, it announced on the 31 October deadline it would not lodge an expression of interest.

“We felt that if we put an EOI in for the 2034 men’s World Cup, it may mean that we couldn’t allocate the right time and resources to the [bids for the] 2026 Women’s Asian Cup and the 2029 Club World Cup, so we didn’t go for it,” Johnson said. “We felt that the Saudi bid was strong and when [they have] got the backing of our confederation, the numbers are stacked against us.”

Saudi Arabia’s bid received swift backing from the head of the Asian Football Confederation and its members, as well as countries in other continents.

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Fifa launched the 2034 bidding process on 5 October with the deadline for member associations to confirm their interest by 31 October. A similar timeframe was in place for the 2023 Women’s World Cup bidding process, which Australia, along with co-hosts New Zealand, were successful in.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday at the announcement of a new pay deal for senior national players, Johnson revealed he had discussions with the Saudi Arabia Football Federation prior to deciding not to bid for the 2034 tournament.

The two associations are competing for the rights to host the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup.

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“There’s been no promises made, but I think there is some goodwill that’s been given throughout world football around our choice around 2034, and I hope together with the best bid on merit that we’re able to win the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup,” Johnson said.

The host of the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup is due to be announced next year.

This article was amended on 11 November 2023 to include some context around the timeline for Fifa’s bidding process