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Russia, Qatar the picks to host 2018 and 2022 World Cup tourneys

Fans at Slainte Irish Pub in Fells Point react to the World Cup announcement.

Soccer fans and Maryland state officials, with visions of World Cup soccer matches at M&T Bank Stadium dancing in their heads, saw their dreams crumble on live television Thursday morning.

Some clutched pints of beer — at 10:30 a.m. — and others wore U.S. soccer scarves as they sat, disbelieving, at Slainte Irish Pub in Fells Point as FIFA, the sport’s international association, chose Qatar to host the tournament in 2022.

The Middle East nation, smaller than Connecticut and with fewer citizens than the Baltimore metro region, edged out the U.S. bid, which finished second.

“It was a humbling experience, but we have to move forward,” said Terry Hasseltine, the state’s sports marketing director.

Hasseltine led the group that jockeyed to put Baltimore into position as a finalist to be one of the host cities, had the United States won.

“Obviously we didn’t hear the USA today,” he said. “We have to go out for another year — ’26 and ’30 are out there.”

The state estimated Baltimore would benefit from between $397 million and $590 million in spending as a result of the World Cup. Baltimore could have hosted at least two and as many as six games, and held a fan festival during the month-long tournament.

Washington, too, was in the running, and colleges and sports complexes around both cities would have served as practice facilities for international teams.

The U.S. delegation, which included former President Bill Clinton, actor Morgan Freeman and soccer star Landon Donovan, stressed the diversity of the country in their final pitch to FIFA on Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of different cultures here,” D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta, a Baltimore native who has played with the national team, said at Slainte before the announcement. “Whatever teams come to play here, if the World Cup is here, it’ll be very positive, both financially and it’ll bring a lot of people together.

“You have everything you need for a World Cup.”

Qatar, which has promised to overcome heat of up to 130 degrees with air conditioned outdoor stadiums, led on every round of balloting that initially included Australia, Japan and South Korea. The lowest vote-getter was eliminated after each round until only the U.S. and Qatar remained. Qatar won the final vote, 14-8.

“We go to new lands,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said.

Few in the United States shared the adventurous sentiment.

“Basically, oil and natural gas won today. This was not about merit, this was about money,” former U.S. national team star Eric Wynalda said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. Qatar “is a country that is really going to struggle to host this event. A successful World Cup would mean the attendance would be twice the population.”

Many at Slainte, which trademarked the slogan “Where soccer is religion” for the 2010 cup, agreed.

“Nobody wants to travel to Qatar in July,” said Slainte regular Bret Holmes, 31.

“Qatar is the size of Rhode Island. It’s in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “They have no infrastructure to be able to support this. God bless them for having it.”

Holmes was dealt another blow Thursday — he said he planned to go to England for the 2018 World Cup, but England was also upset, losing out to Russia.

“I feel much worse for England than I do for us,” he said. “That’s kind of like the Super Bowl being played in Belgium.”

For Hasseltine, much of the soccer focus will shift to events that will come much sooner than 2022, or even 2018. The state is already working on bringing a match between European club teams to Baltimore’s football stadium next summer.

“We’re looking at very high-caliber teams coming to Baltimore,” Hasseltine said.

The city hosted matches between England’s Chelsea and Italy’s AC Milan in 2009, and between Manchester City and Internazionale Milano last summer.

“We put a great effort forward, we just didn’t get the outcome that we wanted,” Hasseltine said. “But you know what? We put soccer in the forefront of the United States.”

Paul A. Tiburzi, managing partner of DLA Piper’s Baltimore office and self-described “huge soccer fan,” said the World Cup would have been another sports gem for Baltimore.

“Baltimore is a great soccer town as we’ve shown with the Chelsea-AC Milan game, and the Manchester City-Milan game,” he said.

Brendan Muth, of Catonsville, said he played soccer growing up and had hoped to be able to take his 18-month-old son Jaden to games at M&T to share in the experience.

Now, by the time 2026 and 2030 come around, it will likely be Jaden’s peers starring in those tournaments.

“In this country, you’re going to see superstars are starting to grow here,” said Quaranta, who played at Archbishop Curley High School. “The opportunity didn’t used to be what it is today.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

One comment

  1. Not surprised Qatar won the bid. Money talks. And they have so freakin much of it. The bitter side of me hopes their air conditioning breaks in the stadiums in the 120 F heat; hate to have to answer for that!

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