Fifa (Getty Images)
Lausanne - Morocco's bid to host the 2026 World Cup has been cleared by FIFA to proceed to a runoff vote against a bid from North America.
"The Moroccan bid has been accepted," Moncef Belkhayat, a former sports minister who sits on the committee, said after the bid came through FIFA's evaluation process.
"The 'Task Force' has today confirmed Morocco's technical ability to organise the 2026 World Cup. All of our team will continue to work towards victory on June 13 in Moscow," Belkhayat said.
FIFA later confirmed that both bids had been passed to go forward to compete in the vote at its Congress on the eve of the opening match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Moroccan media had reported rumours that FIFA was set to disallow the North African nation's bid for reasons including logistical problems in the country's five main cities.
The bid relies heavily on Morocco's passion for football, its relatively compact size, its climate and proximity to Europe and it has support across the African continent, which has hosted the global showpiece only once before, in South Africa in 2010.
Following the corruption-tainted 2010 vote in Zurich to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA changed its bidding process.
Whereas previously the 24 members of the FIFA executive committee used to determine World Cup races, now the hosts will be decided by a vote of 207 individual FIFA member nations.
Under the revised bidding rules, designed to weed out shambolic bids, the Task Force in theory had the power to dismiss Morocco's bid, which would have left the bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico without a rival in the vote.
The five-member FIFA Task Force visited Morocco and the countries in the North American bid to assess their viability.
Morocco scored 2.7 points out of a possible five, while the United States/Canada/Mexico bid scored four out of five, a source close to the North African bid said.
The 2026 World Cup will be the first to be expanded to 48 teams, posing a severe test for the hosts.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is believed to strongly support the North American bid because the three countries involved backed him for the presidency in 2016 when he took over after the reign of Sepp Blatter, who is being investigated in Switzerland for alleged corruption.
The North American bid is concerned however that the intervention of US President Donald Trump could harm their chances.
In April, Trump appeared to warn that nations who did not support the bid may face political repercussions.
North American bid leaders countered by urging FIFA voters to ignore the "politics of the moment" and have promised to deliver a record $11 billion profit.
Morocco has unsuccessfully bid four times before, in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010.
Out of a total of 211 FIFA member nations, the four in competition do not have a vote.