Morocco challenges North America with bid for 2026 World Cup

Morocco announced 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 soccer’s main event back to the United States for the first time in more than 30 years.

 The Moroccan Football Federation 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.

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.

 Morocco had officially launched its bid and sent documents to FIFA, the Moroccan soccer federation said in its brief statement.

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.

The 2026 host will be decided in 2020.

If successful, the U.S.-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.

Morocco now aims to host the tournament 16 years after South Africa staged the first ever African World Cup.

The 2026 World Cup will also see the tournament expanded from 32 to 48 teams, providing an even bigger challenge for the host.

Morocco’s bid may be undermined by the fact that it backed out of its last major hosting duties, when it won the rights to but then declined to stage the 2015 African Cup of Nations because of fears over the spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco has failed in four previous World Cup bids; in 1994 — when it lost to the U.S. — 1998, 2006, and 2010 — when it lost to South Africa.

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