KEIR RADNEDGE reporting from MOSCOW —- One match tomorrow, the first of 64 on Thursday. That is the immediate schedule for the 2018 World Cup.

The football itself begins with hosts Russia facing Saudi Arabia on Thursday here in the Luzhniki Stadium but, before then, the annual congress of world federation FIFA will decide who should host the 2026 finals – favourites United States (plus Canada and Mexico) or upstart outsider Morocco.

Welcome to Luzhniki: The Revolution of the People's Games was probably not what Lenin had in mind back in 1917

To the possible discomforture of FIFA president Gianni Infantino – whose main goal appears to be raking in as much cash as possible in as short a time as possible – the Moroccans managed at the weekend to past the last hurdle on the way to a decisive vote.

The first hurdle had been gaining the approval of a five-man evaluation task force and the second was then in obtaining the approval of the world federation’s council meeting on Sunday.

Financial allure

Morocco had been the more worried about the process, fearing that Infantino – seeking re-election nextyear – privately preferred the financial prospects of a tournament across the length and breadth of central and north America rather than one in the north-west corner of Africa.

The last remaining threat to both bids was spelled out in a FIFA statement that “in the event that the 68th FIFA Congress decides not to choose either of the candidates, FIFA will then launch a new procedure by inviting all member associations – except the four that are taking part in the current process – to submit a bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”

Hence leaders of both bids are spending the days and hours before congress seeking to win over voters from the 200-plus delegations as well as presenting formally to several of the continental confederations. South America’s CONMEBOL made no secret of its own block preference, hearing from United 2o26 but refusing the Moroccans even the courtesy of listening to them.

Most of FIFA’s political bosses – barring those with teams here – will fly out of Moscow the day after congress and the Opening Match and leave events to the people who really matter: the players and the fans.