In the mind’s eye, the road map ahead has clarified fast. It can look dazzling, viewed from Morocco.
February 2025: The Atlas Lions triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations in front of 70,000 fans, perhaps more, in Rabat or Tangier and a rollercoaster that began two winters earlier, by reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in Qatar, continues to soar.
June 2030: The legend grows. Before 90,000 fans in Casablanca, Morocco knock Brazil out of the World Cup.
If those scenarios have an element of random fantasy, the stage at least is now set. Wednesday’s announcement, hardly trailered at all by Fifa, that the hosting of the World Cup in seven years' time had been won by a joint bid submitted by Morocco, Spain and Portugal follows close on the heels of last week’s Confederation of African Football decision to stage the 2025 Afcon in Morocco.
Morocco-Spain-Portugal had been favourite for 2030, its proposals considered more robust than a submission from South America to share the tournament across four nations: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. Discreetly, Fifa had been talking to both rivals about a possible compromise ahead of the scheduled announcement of the successful bid early next year. Agreement was reached ahead of deadline.
The compromise is that one game each from the opening round of matches will be played in Montevideo, Uruguay, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in Asuncion, Paraguay, before the tournament as a whole settles on North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.
It’s a novel idea, and environmental campaigners have criticised it as a bad idea. By the time the draw for the event, assigning qualified teams to groups and fixtures, is made in 2029, there will be various groups of supporters complaining about the distances they must travel if they want to support their countries on site.
Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, argues the vast spread of venues is both respectful to World Cup history and generously inclusive. Three continents; six countries. The one absolute certainty is that Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, will stage the opening game of the vast, 48-team tournament, a gesture towards the past.
The year 2030 marks the centenary of the first men’s football World Cup, held in Uruguay and won by the hosts, whose players back then may have lacked the careful attention to fitness and stamina of their modern equivalents but certainly had their energies sapped less by travel. At the 1930 World Cup, which had 13 teams involved, the longest distance between match venues was three and a half kilometres.
One hundred years later, Uruguay, and whichever of the other 47 World Cup finalists they play on opening night must immediately prepare for a transatlantic journey, as must Argentina and Paraguay, and whoever are their match-day one opponents. They must voyage across four or five hours of time-zone difference for their next game. They’ll be changing season, too, from a southern hemisphere winter to a Mediterranean June.
Infantino celebrated the Europe-Africa-South America World Cup for having a unique “global footprint”. The South American preamble gives it a heavy carbon footprint.
But in an era when World Cups must accommodate 48 teams and 104 matches, the capacity for a single nation to host alone is restricted, and, if there is no co-hosting, limited to only the biggest or wealthiest states. The Morocco-Spain-Portugal map, around which 101 of the 2030 games will be played is certainly kinder to travellers than the so-called "United" World Cup of 2026, which will be the first to feature the expanded 48-country format and will be staged in the US, Canada and Mexico.
There, a supporter wanting to be at matches in Mexico City and Vancouver must prepare themselves for a 5,000-kilometre hike. By contrast, Agadir, the southernmost site among the possible venues in Morocco, to a northern Spanish venue, is less than 2,000km. There will be journeys from, say, Tangier to Seville, where a portion of the trip is most practical by ferry.
The task for the principal organisers of the 2030 tournament is now to nominate stadiums, and for Morocco – where there are plans for a super stadium in Casablanca and where arenas in Rabat, Tangier, Agadir, Fez and Marrakesh are candidate sites – and Portugal to lobby firmly for their share of the action. Spain is the dominant partner in terms of its stadium facilities. The final is widely expected to take place at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu, currently in the final stages of redevelopment.
For the Mena region, Wednesday’s Fifa announcement came with a further boost, a strong signal about the hosting of 2034 World Cup. Football’s governing body invited bids only from the Asia and Oceania Confederations for that event, on the principle that continental rotation of World Cup hosts – North America in 2026; Africa, Europe and South America all included in 2030 – means it will be their turn in 11 years time.
Saudi Arabia, whose proposed joint bid with Egypt and Greece for 2030 was withdrawn earlier this year, immediately declared its interest in 2034 and has widespread support from across Asia and within Fifa.