UEFA president Ceferin backs Morocco joining Europe's World Cup bid

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Once an opponent of bidding for the 2030 World Cup with another continent, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin gave public support Wednesday to Morocco joining the European candidacy.

"I think it's a good idea," Ceferin said at a news conference in Lisbon after the UEFA Congress. "It makes sense to join with Morocco. Morocco is very, very close to Spain and to Portugal."

The long-planned Spain-Portugal bid brought Ukraine on board last October. It was joined last month by Morocco, which is enjoying new status in soccer after eliminating Spain and Portugal on a stunning run to the 2022 World Cup semifinals in Qatar.

In 2018, Morocco was the losing bidder in the 2026 World Cup contest -- won by the United States, Canada and Mexico -- and immediately committed to trying again for the next edition.

Later that year, lawmakers in Spain aired the idea of working with the country's North African near neighbor Morocco -- to Ceferin's displeasure.

"Someone should say once to the politicians it's not up to them to speak if they will be hosts of the Euros or the World Cup or not," Ceferin said in December 2018. "I'm not in favor of cross-confederation bids."

The landscape of football politics has since changed. The UEFA meeting Wednesday in Lisbon where Ceferin was re-elected by acclaim for four more years began with Portugal's prime minister praising the multi-continent bid to European football officials.

"It is the best powerful message we can send to the world, to Europe, to Africa, that through football together we can move forward," Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in translated comments to an audience that included Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe and FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Europe and Africa combine for a total of 109 among the 211 FIFA member federations, though bidding countries cannot vote in a contest expected in September 2024.

A South American centenary bid is being prepared by four nations including Uruguay, inaugural host of the 1930 tournament, and 2022 World Cup winner Argentina.

Saudi Arabia's ambitions to host football events has led to unconfirmed speculation of a 2030 bid with Egypt in Africa and Greece in Europe. It is unclear how UEFA would approve a member federation joining a rival bid.

Spain and Portugal once faced opposition from a United Kingdom-Ireland effort to be the sole European candidate for 2030 that Ceferin had long insisted on. The UK and Ireland bid was later steered toward bidding to host UEFA's 2028 European Championship which it is expected to be awarded in September.

Ceferin tried to clarify Wednesday he was reluctant to support a cross-continent bid "before I knew we will have only one candidate from Europe."

UEFA also set up a potential showcase for its 2030 World Cup bid to voters by announcing Wednesday its next annual congress will be held in Madrid on Feb. 8.