(Reuters) – In a surprise announcement a year earlier than planned FIFA allocated the 2030 World Cup to Morocco, Spain and Portugal on Wednesday but also said Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay will host three matches to mark the tournament’s centenary.
FIFA said the joint bid from Morocco, Portugal and Spain was the sole candidate to host the tournament.
The inaugural World Cup in 1930 was held in Uruguay and won by the hosts after they defeated Argentina in the final in Montevideo.
Spain have been awarded the World Cup weeks after their disgraced former chief Luis Rubiales was forced to step down following his allegedly unsolicited kiss on the lips of player Jenni Hermoso at the Women’s World Cup.
“The FIFA Council unanimously agreed that the sole candidacy will be the combined bid of Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, which will host the event in 2030 and qualify automatically from the existing slot allocation subject to the completion of a successful bidding process conducted by FIFA and a decision by the FIFA Congress in 2024,” FIFA said in a statement.
“Additionally, having taken into account the historical context of the first-ever FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Council further unanimously agreed to host a unique centenary celebration ceremony in the country’s capital, Montevideo… as well as three World Cup matches in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay respectively.”
With the World Cup being held across six countries in two different hemispheres, it might mean some teams play their group matches in different seasons.
The 2022 World Cup was held in Qatar but it was moved from the traditional mid-year window and played in November and December to avoid playing in the searing heat of the Gulf summer.
Argentina are the defending champions and their football association (AFA) said their team “will play the first match of the 2030 group stage at home and with its people”.
“In a divided world, FIFA and football are uniting,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said.
“The FIFA Council… unanimously agreed to celebrate the centenary of the FIFA World Cup, whose first edition was played in Uruguay in 1930, in the most appropriate way.
“As a result, a celebration will take place in South America and three South American countries – Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay – will organise one match each of the FIFA World Cup 2030.”
Infantino said the first of these three matches would be played at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, where the first World Cup took place in 1930.
Robert Harrison, the president of the Paraguayan Football Association, said Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay would automatically qualify for the World Cup but did not clarify what that would mean for the South American qualifying competition.
Paraguay have won the Copa America title twice but they last qualified for the World Cup in 2010, where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals — their best result in the tournament.
They did not finish higher than seventh in the South American World Cup qualifiers for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 editions.
WORLD CUP RETURNS TO SPAIN
While Portugal and Morocco have never hosted the World Cup, Spain last hosted the tournament in 1982.
Pedro Rocha, President of the Management Committee of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, said they were excited to bring it back to the country, who won the World Cup in 2010.
“I am sure that together with Morocco and Portugal we will organise the best World Cup in history,” he said.
Portugal, who hosted the European Championship in 2004, have finally succeeded in the World Cup bidding process after failing to secure hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 editions along with Spain.
Fernando Gomes, the president of the Portuguese Football Federation, said: “Each of our countries brings a vibrant footballing tradition, unrivalled organisational experience and a capacity for innovation that will undoubtedly leave its mark on the future of the competition.”
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI welcomed FIFA’s decision. The African nation stunned the world in Qatar last year when they became the first team from the continent to reach the semi-finals.
“His Majesty King Mohammed VI… has the great pleasure of announcing to the Moroccan people that the FIFA Council has unanimously selected the Morocco-Spain-Portugal bid as the sole candidate to organise the 2030 football World Cup,” Morocco’s Royal Office said in a statement.
Morocco will be the second African country to host the World Cup after South Africa in 2010.
The decision comes days after Morocco was also chosen to host the 2025 African Cup of Nations, following the withdrawal of rival bids, and a month after an earthquake in the country killed nearly 3,000 people.
Soccer plays a big part in Moroccan life, with its biggest teams often winning African club competitions and drawing packed crowds to large city stadiums.
Morocco is already expanding capacity at two of its biggest stadiums in Rabat and Tangier.
FIFA also said that the 2034 World Cup will be held in the Asia or Oceania region, with member associations from those territories invited to bid to host the tournament.
Saudi Arabia announced its intention to bid for the 2034 edition, state news agency SPA said. The country will be hosting the FIFA Club World Cup in December.
The 2026 edition will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Daniela Desantis in Asuncion, Additional reporting by Osama Khairy, Emma Pinedo Gonzalez and Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by William Maclean, Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis.