By Andrew Warshaw in Moscow
June 13 – It was the 13th item on the agenda and it proved to be unlucky verging on disastrous for Morocco as the United States and its partners Canada and Mexico were today awarded the 2026 World Cup.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Morocco discovered to their cost that when it comes to World Cup hosting, money talks as FIFA agreed to send the tournament back to North America for the first time in 32 years.
Just to compound Morocco’s misery in what was the first open World Cup ballot of the modern era, the result was a landslide for the heavyweight favourites who won by 134 votes to 65.
Despite the public handshakes between the two rival candidates as the result was announced at Moscow’s Expocentre at the end of FIFA’s Congress, there was no doubting Morocco’s gut-wrenching disappointment as they lost for a record fifth time in trying to land world football’s showpiece event and may never have another chance.
By contrast, having announced eye-watering prospective revenues for FIFA, the north Americans were ecstatic at being given the chance to host the first expanded 48-team tournament.
In all 200 FIFA members voted, a handful abstaining including Iran and (surprisingly) Spain while two of the four US territories Morocco were so concerned about decided to recuse themselves, perhaps knowing in advance that a result many experts had predicted would be too close to call was, after all, only going one way.
While it was clear the Donald Trump factor ultimately had no adverse effect on United 2026, who could not have asked for a more positive outcome after a calm, slick campaign, the voting patterns flagged up some remarkable results.
Everyone had predicted that a few African votes might go to North America but the fact that around one fifth of African nations deserted Morocco in their hour of need will come as a mighty shock to their campaign team and will no doubt lead to some serious internal discussions within the CAF leadership.
With Saudi Arabia pulling the strings, most of Asia lined up behind United 2026 though two of Europe’s big-hitters in France and Italy went with Morocco as, bizarrely, did Brazil who broke ranks within Conmebol .
Perhaps the most astonishing individual European vote of all, however, involved Russia who apparently switched their vote to United 2026 despite predictions that the Russians would spearhead eastern European support for the underdogs.
Leaders of both bid campaigns had lobbied well into the night in pursuit of late support but it was clear United were way out in front, much to the relief of FIFA president Gianni Infantino who was privately believed to have favoured them because of the sponsor-luring promises of eye-watering revenue and profits.
It was also clear, in the wake of the outcome, that a 48-team World Cup cannot ever be staged by more than a handful of nations on their own.
However much Morocco tried, during their final 15-minute presentation slot, to change the momentum, urging FIFA voters to give finally give them a chance in a country where “football is a religion”, it wasn’t enough – nearly enough – to make anyone change their minds.
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