ZURICH - The tiny desert nation of Qatar beat out the United States as the 2022 World Cup host, with FIFA brushing aside doubts about blistering heat to bring soccer's showcase event for the first time to the Middle East.
The 22 voters on FIFA's executive committee, some accused of corruption in the weeks leading up to their meeting, picked Russia to stage the 2018 tournament, another first-time host. Both votes were taken Thursday and the results announced minutes apart.
Qatar, an oil-rich nation that has been independent since 1971, has a population of about 1.7 million - 500,000 less than Houston. At 4,416 square miles, it is smaller than Connecticut.
"We go to new lands," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.
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 the U.S. and Qatar remained. Qatar won the final vote 14-8.
"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."
The U.S. Soccer Federation, which spent millions of dollars on its bid and brought over former President Bill Clinton for its closing presentation, was hoping to bring the World Cup back to America for the first time since 1994 and boost the steady but slow growth of the sport in the U.S.
"I consider it a disappointment for me personally, for sure, and a setback as we're trying to move this sport forward," USSF president Sunil Gulati said.
Qatar, which has never even qualified for a World Cup, promised to spend $50 billion on infrastructure upgrades and $4 billion to build nine stadiums and renovate three others.