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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

Morocco vows new bid for World Cup after 2026 failure

US-led bid secures two-thirds of the vote for the first 48-team tournament

Morocco vowed to continue its campaign to host the World Cup despite a fifth failure when football’s governing body overwhelmingly backed a three-nation North American bid for 2026.

The joint US-Canada-Mexico bid, long seen as the favourite, secured two-thirds of the 200 votes in a new voting process. It followed corruption and kick-back scandals at Fifa and resulted in the toppling of some of its senior officials.

Success for the US-led bid was based on the promise of an $11 billion windfall for the global game with 17 stadiums already ready for the biggest single sports event in the world. The tournament will be the first under an expanded 48-game format.

“Thank you for entrusting us with the privilege of hosting the Fifa World Cup in 2026,” said an emotional Carlos Cordeiro, the president of the US soccer federation, on the eve of this summer's tournament in Russia. “Football today is the only winner.”

The US-led bid had been coasting to victory but the intervention of Donald Trump, who made veiled threats against countries who voted for Morocco, spiced up the contest.

Mr Trump tweeted his approval on Wednesday in a rare show of unity with Canada and Mexico. “The US, together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations – a great deal of hard work!”

For Morocco, there was only disappointment after previously unsuccessful bids in 1994 – when the North African nation also lost to the US – in 1998, 2006 and 2010. Morocco had been a late entrant to the 2026 race and its projected profits were half of the US bid.

In a final pitch for support before Fifa delegates, the Moroccan bid had promoted the country’s passion for the game, the short distances between venues and – in a barb against US crime levels – its restrictions on gun ownership.

Following the defeat, Fouzi Lekjaa, head of the Moroccan football federation, told congress of the “determination of my country to continue to work for football … and to realise our dream some day of hosting the World Cup”.

The vote came on an eventful final day before the kick off of the 2018 tournament on Thursday with an opening match between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia. Julen Lopetegui, national coach of one of the hot favourites, Spain, was sacked on Wednesday for agreeing to join Real Madrid without telling his employers.

"I found out with a phone call five minutes before the official announcement," said Luis Rubiales, the head of the Spanish football federation. "We feel obliged to take this decision."

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Fifa published the results of Wednesday’s voting which showed that the 65 countries backing Morocco included a strong African contingent but attracted few countries outside of the region.

The UAE, along with current hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia were among the 134 countries who backed the North American bid. Iran was the only country that did not back either.

The vote on the 2026 tournament followed a late round of lobbying around the delegates’ Moscow hotels to try to woo last-minute undecided backers. Late switchers included the Netherlands – which backed the Morocco bid – and South Africa, which supported the US-led bid.

A giant screen displays the logo of Morocco 2026 before a press conference to promote Morocco's bib for the 2026 soccer World Cup in Casablanca. Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP Photo, file
A giant screen displays the logo of Morocco 2026 before a press conference to promote Morocco's bib for the 2026 soccer World Cup in Casablanca. Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP Photo, file

The decision marked the first time that showed how each country had voted following accusations of corruption and double-dealing following the award of the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 competition to Qatar.

Only 22 Fifa executive committee members were eligible to vote in 2010 and wielded vast power on behalf of regional blocs. Those decisions – dogged by allegations of corruption – sparked a US-led corruption investigation into Fifa, the arrest of senior officials and the toppling of Sepp Blatter as its head.

Its new president, Gianni Infantino, who was believed to favour the US bid, told congress that Fifa was “clinically dead” when he took over in 2016. “Two years later, Fifa is alive and well, full of joy and passion and with a vision for its future,” he told Fifa's congress in Moscow.

The new system of voting placed greater emphasis on a technical report which gave the North American bid a significant lead over Morocco. The experts had said the bids represented “two almost opposite ends of the spectrum”.

The United States will host 60 of the 80 games, including all of those in the latter stages, with Mexico and Canada each hosting ten.

Separately, a decision at the Fifa congress on whether the Qatar tournament would be expanded from 32 to 48 teams was put off. Mr Infantino said no vote could take place until discussions had taken place with the organisers of the 2022 tournament.

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