It was game on for Gianni “Fifantino” during his first day as new president. In a foggy and rain-soaked Zurich, he kicked off a new dawn for soccer’s governing body with a match at the FIFA headquarters. Fabio Cannavaro, Deco, Luis Figo, Fernando Hierro, Paolo Maldini, Robert Pires, and Clarence Seedorf were among the stars who joined Infantino in his small friendly. “Soccer is back at FIFA, and FIFA is back in soccer,” said Infantino in his soccer kit.
He confirmed that Russia and Qatar will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively, and intimated that the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup may be opened in a matter of months.
That raises a key question: will the USA bid to host soccer’s biggest jamboree? In last Friday’s FIFA election, US Soccer and its president Sunil Gulati were among the kingmakers, alongside Prince Ali from Jordan. Gulati had pledged his vote to Prince Ali, but didn’t burn his tight relationship with Infantino.
“We told Gianni that we would support Prince Ali but also gave him the assurance that when it mattered we would be with him,” commented Gulati – and that’s precisely how the election panned out. Infantino gained a narrow three-vote lead over his chief rival Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa from Bahrain in the first ballot of voting. In a prelude to Infantino’s crowning, Gulati began to work the floor in the large conference hall, talking at length to Infantino himself and other delegates.
It was a show of strength by US Soccer – a marker that the USA is a force in the global game, so much so that hosting the 2026 World Cup now seems like a possibility. FIFA hasn’t been too popular with the US as of late, with the Department of Justice and FBI targeting corrupt soccer officials.
Did Infantino horse-trade the 2026 tournament in return for US Soccer’s support? The new FIFA frontman denied so categorically in an interview with the BBC today, but Gulati’s clever political scheming certainly boosted American soccer’s clout in Zurich.
Last time the USA hosted the World Cup, it played out a dramatic first round game with Colombia, a sensational Bulgaria eliminated Mexico at extra time in the round of sixteen, and Brazil, with Romario as protagonist, labored to a fourth world title in the heat of Pasadena against Italy. That was 1994, it may happen all over again in 2026 if US Soccer decides to bid.