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Morocco challenges North America with bid for 2026 World Cup

August 12, 2017

CASABLANCA: Morocco announced on Friday that it will bid to host the 2026 World Cup, providing a challenge to a joint North American project that is aiming to bring football’s main event back to the United States for the first time in more than 30 years.

The Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) released a two-sentence statement confirming its intention to bid. The announcement came on deadline day for countries to express their interest in hosting in 2026.

It would be Morocco’s fifth candidacy having come up short already in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010.

“The Royal Moroccan Football Federation has officially submitted its candidacy on Friday, August 11, 2017 to organise the World Cup in 2026,” the statement on the federation’s website said.

“The Federation submitted its application to the relevant committees of the Federation Internationale de Football Association — FIFA — to host this global event.”

If successful, Morocco would become only the second African country to host football’s flagship event following South Africa in 2010.

The north Africans have received backing from African confederation (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad.

“We are convinced that Morocco could organise this competition just as was done by South Africa in 2010,” said Malagasy Ahmad after he was elected to succeed Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou as head of the African body.

However, FIFA last year accepted that the country had paid bribes to the former head of the North and Central American Confederation in trying to win the right to host the 1998 and 2010 tournaments — something that could prejudice any future bid.

But FIFA president Gianni Infantino has echoed Ahmad’s endorsement, saying that Morocco has the necessary “infrastructure and organisational capacity” to host the World Cup.

The United States, Canada and Mexico launched a joint bid in April and had hoped to be awarded the 2026 World Cup unchallenged. But FIFA decided to keep the contest open and Morocco said it had met Friday’s deadline. FIFA are due to make a decision in 2020.

The 2026 World Cup is only open to bids from the Americas, Africa and Oceania, with Europe and Asia ineligible because those continents will host the next two World Cups in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022.

If successful, the US-Canada-Mexico bid would see the World Cup return to the United States for the first time since 1994, and would also make Mexico the first three-time host.

The 2026 tournament will be the first with an expanded 48-team tournament, up from the current 32 qualifiers.

Morocco had won the right to host the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations but pulled out at the 11th hour over concerns related to the Ebola outbreak in western Africa at the time.

But the country has embarked on a professionalisation drive to improve its football infrastructure while increasing it’s candidacies for various tournaments in order to improve its chances of landing a much coveted World Cup.

Morocco has hosted two Club World Cup tournaments, in 2013 and 2014, although that is a vastly smaller and shorter tournament.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2017