MOSCOW • Fifa members will decide today whether the 2026 World Cup should be played in North America or return to Africa for just the second time, in Morocco.
The choice is clear - between a slick bid based on gleaming stadiums in the United States, Mexico and Canada or an ambitious attempt from Morocco based on as yet largely unbuilt facilities.
On the eve of the World Cup in Russia, 207 Fifa member nations will cast their vote in a congress of football's world governing body.
Morocco's bid for 2026 was only cleared to advance to the runoff vote earlier this month, despite a Fifa evaluation report which classified the north African nation's stadia, accommodation and transport as "high risk".
The report left the US-Canada-Mexico joint bid as the clear front-runner after giving it a rating of four out of a possible five.
Morocco received only 2.7 out of five, but advanced despite red flags being raised over several critical components of the bid.
A Fifa summary of the bid task force's findings warned that "the amount of new infrastructure required for Morocco 2026 to become reality cannot be overstated".
Critics of the Morocco bid also point to the fact that 2026 will be the first to be expanded to 48 teams, posing a severe test for the host. But Morocco is still considered to be in with a genuine chance.
It has tried, and failed, four times before, in votes for the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 tournaments - it lost out in the latter to South Africa, the only African nation ever to have hosted football's global showpiece.
Morocco has the support of many European countries, attracted by its geographical proximity, and most of Africa, in line with a call from the head of the Confederation of African Football, Ahmad Ahmad.
But two English-speaking African countries, Liberia and South Africa, have defected to the North America bid.
Morocco's bid leader Moulay Hafid Elalamy says the bid is based on the "fervour for football in the country and the entire African continent" and promises all the host cities will be less than an hour's flight apart. North America countered by promising to deliver a record US$11 billion (S$14.68 billion) profit.
Bid leader Carlos Cordeiro said: "Our vision is a very simple one. We offer Fifa an unprecedented united opportunity to stage the 2026 World Cup. We believe strongly that this decision will be made on its merits."
Fifa president Gianni Infantino is believed to strongly support the North American bid because the three countries involved backed him for the presidency in 2016 when he took over after the reign of Sepp Blatter, who is being investigated in Switzerland for alleged corruption.
Although the Fifa evaluation report clearly assessed North America as the superior bid, it was not necessarily a knockout blow for Morocco.
In 2010, a Fifa evaluation committee flagged Qatar's bid for 2022 as "a health risk for players, spectators, officials" over ferocious heat in the Gulf state in June and July.
Qatar duly won the vote in a shock result in Zurich; Fifa later moved the tournament to November and December 2022.