Atlanta could get its World Cup dreams answered

After years of planning and preparation, Atlanta will find out Thursday whether it made the final cut as one of about 16 cities to host the 2026 World Cup. And Georgia officials are optimistic the city’s name will be called after a mysterious and unusually lengthy selection process.

FIFA is set to announce the winners of the sweepstakes in a made-for-TV spectacle beginning at 5 p.m. in New York, culling the list of North American cities down from 22 finalists. It would bring one of the world’s biggest sporting events – and, boosters hope, more prestige and spending – to Georgia.

Members of the Atlanta Sports Council, which has spearheaded the city’s bid, stress they haven’t been informed of FIFA’s decision, which has been kept a tightly guarded secret.

But the council’s leaders are optimistic, with president Dan Corso saying he’s “confident” about the city’s chances. A senior state official said Atlanta is expected to win a slot as a host.

If Atlanta is picked, it won’t come as a surprise. The city has extensive experience hosting premier sports events, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of the few NFL venues that regularly holds soccer games. National experts have long considered Atlanta a lock for one of the spots.

Georgia lawmakers were so optimistic about Atlanta’s chances that $250,000 was included in next year’s state budget for anticipated public safety costs. That’s just a drop in the bucket, though, for an event likely to cost tens of millions of dollars from private and public sources.

A group of leading politicians, sports executives and regional officials will be on hand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday to celebrate what they hope will be an economic development victory. Among those expected to attend is Gov. Brian Kemp.

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15: France fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Credit: Clive Rose

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15:  France fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Credit: Clive Rose

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15: France fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Credit: Clive Rose

Credit: Clive Rose

Atlanta has plenty of competition across the continent. Canada and Mexico each have three cities in the running, along with 16 from the U.S. With 48 teams and 80 matches, though, FIFA has some wiggle room to include as many as a dozen U.S. cities.

The announcement Thursday is expected to be limited to which cities will host the tournament, with decisions coming later about how many matches each city will get and where specific rounds will be played.

If Atlanta wins a slot, it can thank a familiar playbook used to land other major sports spectacles: A downtown area packed with hotels and convention venues, buy-in from local and state officials, and Hartsfield-Jackson’s busy airport terminals. The devoted fanbase of Atlanta United, the city’s MLS team, helped demonstrate the region’s love of soccer.

Corso told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city’s supporters have worked toward “putting ourselves in the best position possible” to emerge victorious.

“But at the end of the day, it’s kind of like a sporting event, I guess: You just never know what the outcome is going to be. You can prepare as much as you possibly can, and then you go play the game and see what happens.”

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In this June 2, 2018, file photo, the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is open as Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union on a penalty kick while Miguel Almiron jumps on his back during an MLS soccer match in Atlanta. The 2026 World Cup will return to the U.S. for the first time since 1994. Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium was shown prominently in the video used in the North American pitch for the bid. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In this June 2, 2018, file photo, the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is open as Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union on a penalty kick while Miguel Almiron jumps on his back during an MLS soccer match in Atlanta. The 2026 World Cup will return to the U.S. for the first time since 1994. Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium was shown prominently in the video used in the North American pitch for the bid. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Combined ShapeCaption
In this June 2, 2018, file photo, the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is open as Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union on a penalty kick while Miguel Almiron jumps on his back during an MLS soccer match in Atlanta. The 2026 World Cup will return to the U.S. for the first time since 1994. Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium was shown prominently in the video used in the North American pitch for the bid. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.