ALL this stuff is new to Ian Maxwell. Before a ball is struck in anger in Russia this week, the SFA chief executive and his president Alan McRae will make arguably Scotland’s most significant contribution to events in the Eastern bloc this month as they attend the 68th Fifa congress and cast our vote in the election to decide who will host the World Cup after next.

Only two applications for 2026 still stand at this stage of the proceedings, a powerhouse combined bid from the USA, Canada and Mexico and a little-heralded application from Morocco to take the global showpiece to North Africa for the first time. This will be quite a global shindig, remember, Fifa having already taken the decision to expand it to an outlandish 48-team affair.

Another thing which is unusual, of course, is the fact the SFA have a vote at all. Decisions such as these used to be the preserve of the Fifa’s mysterious 24-man executive committee, but let’s just say the decisions cooked up by this cabal caused a bit of trouble in the past.

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Let’s gloss over for now what exactly transpired in December 2010 when Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 showpieces, setting in train a chain of events which saw Sepp Blatter step down in the midst of a 2015 corruption investigation. But who could forget poor Charles Dempsey, the Scottish-born New Zealander who abstained at the 11th hour, handing the battle to host the 2006 World Cup to Germany ahead of South Africa by a 12-11 margin. It also neatly meant that Blatter, who had essentially backed both sides during the campaign, didn’t have to have the casting vote.

This is where McRae and Maxwell come in, the SFA board having convened by conference call during the week to come to a decision as to which of the bids is more deserving of Scottish backing. Representatives of both bid teams were in Glasgow in recent times, doing everything within the rules to convince the Scots that they would be suitable hosts. The SFA have yet to declare which they will plump for but their preference will be made public in the hours after the vote.

It is hard to know whether this vote is more difficult to second guess when it was held in a darkened room or when Fifa’s rank and file are involved on an open floor. On the face of it, having missed out in such remarkable circumstances to Qatar in 2022, the combined bid by USA, Mexico and Canada would seem to be a heavyweight favourite. Their stadia, including a whopping 92,000 arena in Dallas with a giant plasma screen which runs most the length of the pitch, are ready – unlike Morocco, who have five new ones to build. But Mark Wotte, the former SFA performance director who is currently employed as Morocco’s Under-23 coach, told Herald Sport last night that the North Africans should only be written off at your peril.

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For a start, there is the Donald Trump factor. Some might suggest that the US president is in line for a Nobel peace prize just now, and point out that Fifa thought nothing of rewarding Vladimir Putin, but Trump polarised the Fifa crowd with a tweet which laid out the quid pro quo he expects for his support in pretty bare terms. “It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid,” came the tweet from @realDonaldTrump. “Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

Donald Trump was quite aggressive in his statement, he said that he expects everyone who he is backing financially to vote for the USA but that could backfire too because he is not the most popular guy in the world,” Wotte told Herald Sport. “It is going to be tight because the Moroccans have put together a very decent bid with a lot of government help.

“It is the fifth time Morocco has put in a bid and there are a lot of advantages to having it in Morocco,” he added. “It is a neutral time zone – for Europe it is perfect but it is also reasonable for China and Asia. The climate is very good for playing football and for access for European fans it is much better than for the USA. During the last World Cup in the USA the Dutch team had to play at 12 noon during the day just to facilitate the TV broadcast.

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“A lot of African countries are on very good terms with Morocco, there has been huge support from other European countries as well and it is the first time that every country has a vote. Of course with so many teams there would be a lot of work to be done for Morocco if we get the bid. A lot of stadiums and hotels to be built but it is all taken care of in the bid. The people running the bid are very convinced.”

Whether Morocco will conquer the world in Russia remains to be seen. For all the talent Herve Renard has available in the form of Mehdi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech, they have landed a tough section alongside Iran, Spain and Portugal. “Everybody wants to talk about the second and the third game but it is the first match against Iran which is like the final,” says Wotte. “If you don’t win that then it will be a hell of a job beating Portugal or Spain.”

Without Netherlands or Scotland to talk about, Wotte reckons France will be the team to beat in Russia, with honourable mentions to Germany and Russia. “They have so much individual ability, a lot of scoring ability,” he said.