RABAT, Morocco -- In just over two months, FIFA will vote to decide the hosts of the 2026 World Cup when Congress chooses between the United bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada and that of Morocco, which is bidding for the fifth time.
ESPN FC visited Morocco this week to meet the key figures involved in the bid and assess the North African nation's plans. So can Morocco win and become only the second African country to stage the World Cup?
Q. DOES MOROCCO HAVE A GENUINE CHANCE OF VICTORY?
A. Morocco needs to claim 104 votes from 207 FIFA members to win the right to stage the 2026 World Cup, but unlike in previous campaigns when it boiled down to 22 votes within the Executive Committee, it is now one vote per national federation.
That includes 55 African nations, aside from Morocco, that are expected to back the Moroccan bid, with large support also anticipated from the 47 Asian nations.
Morocco hopes to win the backing of European countries with close ties to the country, such as Spain, Portugal, France and Belgium, while there is also a view that Russia and its allies will back Morocco rather than a bid involving the United States.
It is a political battle as much as a sporting one, which makes Morocco a genuine contender to win the race.
Q. THE UNITED BID BOAST WORLD-CLASS STADIA IN EVERY CITY -- WHAT ABOUT MOROCCO?
A. The Morocco 2026 campaign admit that, if the World Cup were to be staged tomorrow, it could not host the tournament. And it accepts that the United bid has the infrastructure for the World Cup already in place.
Morocco 2026 has laid out plans in its bid book to provide 14 stadiums for the World Cup across 12 cities, with the centre-point being an updated 93,000-capacity Grand Stade in Casablanca which would host the final.
There are plans for six "Legacy Modular Stadiums" which will each house 46,000 fans at the World Cup before being reduced in size after the tournament.
Q. CAN MOROCCO AFFORD TO BUILD AND UPDATE 14 STADIUMS IN TIME FOR 2026?
A. The Morocco 2026 bid is fully backed by the Moroccan government, with guarantees of funding given to FIFA within the bid book.
Since Morocco last bid for the World Cup, in 2003, its GDP has more than doubled, with the country containing an estimated 75 per cent of global phosphate reserves. Tourism has mushroomed -- Morocco is now a top 30 tourism destination worldwide -- with the country also a key gateway between Africa, Europe and the rest of the world through its shipping lanes.
Should Morocco win the right to host the World Cup, six new hospitals will be built as part of plans to boost infrastructure.
Q. THE UNITED BID POINTS TO A STRONG, WELL-ESTABLISHED TRAVEL NETWORK -- DOES MOROCCO?
A. There are 15 international airports in Morocco with Africa's first high-speed train due to start running between Casablanca and Tangier in 2018. Morocco also has the second longest road network in Africa.
Internally, the transport network within Morocco can't compete with the United bid in terms of its depth and volume, but the country appears to boast a stronger and more complete infrastructure than Brazil, which hosted the World Cup in 2014.
Q. WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS OF MOROCCO'S BID?
A. Size and location are perhaps the two advantages that Morocco holds over the United bid.
The bid campaign are attempting to sell the image of an intimate World Cup in Morocco, which would ensure a better experience for players and fans. Every host city is within less than a 550-kilometer radius of Casablanca, with the longest internal flight between venues just 1 hour and 15 minutes.
There is also just one time zone in Morocco, which is 14 kilometers from Europe at its closest point.
In terms of location, Morocco believes it hits the "sweet spot" for television broadcasting because its position enables Europe -- the most lucrative TV market for FIFA -- to maximise broadcasting revenue.
With Morocco's timezone and location, every game during the tournament would kick off between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Europe.
Q. WHAT ARE MOROCCO'S WEAKNESSES?
A. While the United bid could stage the World Cup tomorrow, the majority of Morocco's plans remain on the drawing board.
None of the proposed stadiums are ready to host a World Cup and Morocco must convince the FIFA associations that there is no risk in handing the tournament to the country.
Internal infrastructure must be improved but, using Brazil 2014 as a measuring stick, Morocco has time to do this.
Security is another issue. Despite suffering just one terrorist attack this decade, when a bomb killed 17 people in Marrakech in Apr 2011, Morocco must convince the world that it can organise a safe World Cup for 48 teams.
Morocco has, however, touted its limited threat from gun crime in its bid, highlighting safety for visiting fans in bidding documents published by FIFA on Monday.
With North Africa enduring political turmoil in recent years, plus terror attacks in Tunisia and Egypt, Morocco's biggest challenge could be overcoming external fears over the security of the region.
Q. DOES MOROCCO BELIEVE IT CAN WIN OR IS THIS BID MERELY A MARKER FOR 2034?
A. Morocco believes it can win, but there is a perception that continental rotation will see North America win the right to stage the World Cup for the first time since 1994.
Europe is pushing hard to stage the centenary World Cup in 2030, although it faces opposition from a joint Argentina-Uruguay bid, so Africa may have to wait until 2034 before hosting its second World Cup (after South Africa 2010).
Morocco would expect to be the next African nation to stage the tournament and, having ensured a contest rather than a coronation for 2026, any friends and alliances made during this bidding process could ultimately deliver the prize in the future.