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Sunday June 17th, 2018 11:40PM

U.S., Mexico, Canada will stage 2026 World Cup

By The Associated Press
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MOSCOW — North America will host the 2026 World Cup after FIFA voters overwhelmingly opted for the financial and logistical certainty of a United States-led bid over a risky Moroccan proposal for the first 48-team tournament.

The soccer showpiece will return to the U.S. for the first time since 1994 after gaining 134 votes, while Morocco got 65 at the FIFA Congress in Moscow on Wednesday.

The vote by football federations was public, in contrast to secrecy surrounding the ballot by FIFA's elected board members for the 2018 and 2022 hosts, Russia and Qatar, in 2010.

The U.S. proposed staging 60 out of the 80 games in 2026, when 16 teams will be added to the finals, leaving Canada and Mexico with ten fixtures each.

An optimistic promise of delivering $14 billion in revenue helped sway voters, along with the lack of major construction work required on the 16 planned stadiums, all of which already exist.

By contrast, Morocco appeared too hazardous as a potential host when all 14 venues had to be built or renovated as part of a $16 billion investment in new infrastructure. The vote leaves Morocco reeling from a fifth failure in a World Cup hosting vote, with the continent's sole tournament coming in 2010 in South Africa.

While Morocco's combined tickets and hospitality revenue would be $1.07 billion, according to FIFA analysis, North America would generate $2 billion additional income.

Canada will host men's World Cup matches for the first time, while Mexico gets its first taste of the event since staging the entire event in 1986.

President Donald Trump tweeted his approval : "The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations - a great deal of hard work!"

While Trump has been feuding with Canadian leaders over tariffs and Mexico about his proposed border wall, the political leaders are not heavily involved in the World Cup bid. Even if Trump wins re-election, his presidency will end before the 2026 World Cup.

The 87,000-capacity MetLife Stadium outside New York is proposed for the final. It's just miles from where federal prosecutors spearheaded an ongoing investigation into FIFA corruption. More than 40 soccer officials and businesses indicted, convicted or pleaded guilty.

The bribery scandal put the governing body on the brink, FIFA President Gianni Infantino told the congress ahead of Wednesday's vote.

"FIFA was clinically dead as an organization," Infantino said, reflecting on his election in 2016. "Two years later, FIFA is alive and well, full of joy and passion and with a vision for its future."

The North American victory suggests football officials are ready to gather for a World Cup in a country whose government has demonstrated its willingness to jail corrupt sports leaders through undercover investigations.

The North America bid also had to overcome concerns about the impact of policies from the Trump administration, including attempts to implement a ban on travel by residents of six majority-Muslim countries.

The main intervention by President Donald Trump was a warning in a White House news conference, discussing the FIFA vote, that he would be "watching very closely." It was a veiled threat to withhold U.S. support from countries opposing the bid.

FIFA now has the final say on which cities are selected to host games and whether all three countries are guaranteed a place at the tournament. Victor Montagliani, the Canadian who leads CONCACAF, wants them to take three of the six qualification slots reserved for the region.

There is also a chance to send a seventh team via an inter-continental playoff. North America will host the six-team playoff tournament in November 2025 to decide the last two places in the 48-team lineup.

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