MONACO — UEFA president Michel Platini praised English football on Thursday for its efforts to stamp out violence in stadiums.
Platini spoke less than 48 hours after fans of rival London clubs West Ham United and Millwall rioted at a match in an ugly reminder of England's hooligan past.
The fighting at West Ham's Upton Park stadium was quickly condemned by organizers hoping to bring the 2018 World Cup finals to England - a campaign which could hinge on Platini's support because four European bids are competing for the event.
"I know the (English) Football Association has really worked hard," he told reporters. "A lot of positive things have developed in the last 20 years.
"I know what it was like in the 1980s in England," said Platini, who witnessed one of the worst incidents involving English fans when playing for Juventus at the 1985 European Cup final. A total of 39 fans were killed at Heysel Stadium in Brussels when Liverpool fans charged toward a section of Italian supporters causing a barrier wall to collapse.
"There is much less violence now but obviously we know something can happen at any time, like with racism," Platini said.
As a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, Platini is one of 24 voters - and nine Europeans - who will choose the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in December 2010.
Platini has asked FIFA president Sepp Blatter to consider 2018 as Europe's turn after the 2010 World Cup is held in South Africa and 2014 in Brazil.
"My mission is to bring it back to Europe. We are all behind this 200 percent," he said.
England faces competition from fellow UEFA members Russia, and joint Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal bids. UEFA could decide to support one candidate to avoid splitting the vote.
Australia, Japan, Mexico and the United States are also bidding for either the 2018 or 2022 events. Indonesia, Qatar and South Korea are bidding only for the 2022 hosting rights.