MADRID: Former Real Madrid star Zinedine Zidane said on Thursday he was “upset” that Spain and Portugal’s joint bid to host the 2018 World Cup had failed but was “very pleased” with the choice of Qatar to host the tournament in 2022.
The French footballer of Algerian origin, who acted as an ambassador for Qatar’s bid, said holding the football tournament in the Gulf state was a sign that “the Arab world is emerging.”
“In the case of Spain the decision upset me a bit,” he added in comments to Spanish media in Zurich.
Zidane, a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year, retired from football after the 2006 World Cup in which he was sent off in the final won by Italy.
Spain’s government and sports officials expressed bitter disappointment over the failure of their joint bid with Portugal for the 2018 World Cup, saying FIFA had decided to take football to “new horizons”.
“We are disappointed, but you have to accept defeat,” said the secretary of state for sport, Jaime Lissavetzky.
Spain’s coach, Vicente del Bosque, congratulated both Russia and Qatar, named as hosts for 2022, but said “we had all conditions to organise the World Cup,” mentioning the sporting facilities in a “modern country” that has a “passion” for football.
“But, hey, I suppose that (members of FIFA’s executive committee) had different criteria from us,” he said.
He said these criteria might be “to expand football to other regions, and, well, they (Russia and Qatar) are countries with economic weight.”
The head of the joint Spain-Portugal bid, Miguel Angel Lopez, also said the decision appeared to have been based on FIFA’s desire to stage the World Cup in nations where it has never been held before.
Portugal secretary of state for sports, Laurentino Dias, agreed with his Spanish counterpart’s assessment, saying it was “a legitimate option which we must respect and understand”.
“The Iberian bid was the best and it seems like it was the finalist along with Russia’s,” he added.
Losers cry foul
Meanwhile, defeated World Cup hopefuls vented their anger on Friday over FIFA’s decision to name Russia and Qatar as the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after a bitter bidding war tainted by corruption claims.
As the questions were asked over how Russia would pay for the tournament and how teams would fare in the searing summertime heat of Qatar, US President Barack Obama led a backlash against football’s world governing body.
“I think it was the wrong decision,” Obama, who had recorded a personal appeal in support of the beaten American bid, told reporters.
There was widespread astonishment at Qatar’s victory — a kingdom whose team have never qualified for the World Cup and where temperatures reach around 43 degress Celsius in June and July when the tournament is staged.
Along with the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia all tabled bids for 2022.
Football Federation Australia’s Jack Reilly said its 2022 bid had fallen victim to FIFA politics and Qatar’s deep pockets.
“The Qatar delegation have been pushing money around for a long period of time,” he said.
Japan’s Football Association vice-chairman Kuniya Daini expressed bafflement at the decision, saying it seemed to be less about football than politics.
“Maybe, it is meaningful to host it in the Middle East for the first time?” he said.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, who travelled to Zurich, was baffled by the outcome.
“According to FIFA we had the best technical team, no one could identify any risks of coming to England. I think we had the strongest commercial bid and the country is passionate about football,” he told reporters.
FIFA’s shock decision provoked despair in Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo on Friday as years of campaigning ended in heartbreak and accusations of financial skullduggery.
“Soccer is dead to me,” Jeremy Tom, 26, told AFP at a gathering of about 100 diehard Australian fans watching the vote on a big screen on the shores of Sydney Harbour in the middle of the night.
Team leaders from Japan and South Korea also vented frustration at the event being handed to Qatar, which has never played in the World Cup.
“I don’t quite understand what factor is favourable,” Japan’s Football Association vice-chairman Kuniya Daini said. “Maybe, it is meaningful to host it in the Middle East for the first time?”