SPAIN and Portugal are set to up the ante on their 2030 World Cup bid – by DUMPING Ukraine and enlisting Morocco.
The Iberian-led bid is the official European standard-bearer ahead of the vote due from Fifa’s 211 member associations next year.
AFPFootball representatives of Spain, Portugal and Ukraine had put together a World Cup bid[/caption]
But just five months after announcing Ukraine would be added to the bid and house two groups if it was successful, the war-hit nation is on the verge of being replaced by the North African state.
Morocco bid unsuccessfully to host the 2010 and 2026 tournaments and had mooted a standalone campaign or heading a three-nation option involving neighbours Tunisia and Algeria for 2030.
But the success of the Morocco team on the pitch in their run to the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar saw further discussions about being recruited to the Iberian bid.
That is now part of active discussions with the Spanish and Portuguese FAs, alarmed at being linked with the corruption, fraud and money laundering allegations aimed at Ukrainian FA chief Andriy Pavelko.
While Pavelko has vehemently denied all the claims against him there is growing pressure on Ukraine to announce it is no longer able to join the Iberian campaign, leaving the door open for Morocco to walk through.
While the Iberian bid will have the total support of Uefa and its President Aleksander Ceferin it is facing an uphill battle to secure the 106 votes needed in the likely second stage of voting.
England and the other Home Nations plus Ireland represent five certain votes for Spain and Portugal, with other major European countries likely to fall into line.
But the four nation South American bid by Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile, officially launched last month, is the sentimental pick.
Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, which hosted the inaugural final in 1930, would also fulfil the same role 100 years later.
And Fifa President Gianni Infantino is more likely to put his unofficial weight behind the front-runner, the three nation bid led by Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis have planted their flag already in both Africa and Europe, with games promised in co-hosts Egypt and Greece.
Including Greece is an attempt to break open the 55-nation Uefa bloc vote.
Russia, still a Fifa member and with the same vote as any other nation, is likely to use its influence to back the Saudi-led cause, far easier with Greece part of the bid.
Including Morocco would be a way for the Spain-Portugal team to try to attract African support which would otherwise be likely to be mandated to go with the Saudi bid because of Egypt’s involvement.