FORMER FIFA vice president Jack Warner hailed Argentina's World Cup victory on Sunday and said the tournament was so successful that he was clearly vindicated over its award to Qatar.
He spoke to Newsday an hour after Argentina beat France in the finals, 4-2 on penalties, after a 3-3 tie after extra time.
In 2010, Fifa's executive committee voted 14-8 for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup – ahead of bids by the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia – and for Russia to host the 2018 tournament ahead of England, Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium.
Some voices in the international media criticised the choice of Qatar, complaining it was a small nation of two million people, located in the Middle East, and lacking a long history of football.
Concerns were raised about the hot climate, a ban on alcohol in stadia, LGBT rights and lack of football infrastructure.
Amid allegations of Qatari bribes for hosting rights, the US Department of Justice indicted Warner in 2015 on allegations of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and is seeking to extradite him. Qatar World Cup organisers and Warner have denied any wrongdoing, instead claiming sour grapes by the US for not getting to host the 2022 tournament.
As the World Cup ended dramatically on Sunday, there have been rave reviews as fans enjoyed a month of upsets, exciting matches, underdogs succeeding and classic goals.
Warner said his decision to support Qatar's bid had been proven right, but he was personally now paying a high price for it.
"All I'm prepared to say is although I contributed to having the World Cup in Qatar – for which I've paid a very dear price today – nobody stood up for my defence and said I did the correct thing.
"The football tournament has justified that what I did was correct. The World Cup has to be expanded to other areas besides Europe and South America.
"I have been pilloried for that and have been victimised and am paying a price before the courts.
"I stand by my decision. I want to say it was the best World Cup FIFA has had in its history. I want to congratulate Argentina, but also equally (Lionel) Messi (Argentina captain) and (Kylian) Mbappe (Golden Boot winner)."
Why was it the best World Cup ever?
Warner said, "In terms of the quality of the matches, the fact it was incident-free, the fact that the standard of refereeing was very high, and at the end of the day it also exposed some of the emerging countries like Croatia (four million population) and Morocco (World Cup semifinalists). They were exposed to a high level of football.
"I feel, all in all, the winner of this World Cup is football."
Warner delved further into the decision to award Qatar hosting rights.
"The World Cup has never gone to a Muslim country or an Arab country in its history. I felt the time had come for an Arab country to be given the World Cup, and not only an Arab country but one of the richest Arab countries today. They can do it more than another person can.
"So I was strong in my belief, it was the correct thing to do.
"I want to repeat: today both the US and UK have me pay a price for that decision, but I stand by it.
"A lot of people have been calling me now to congratulate me. A lot. Hundreds of people have been calling to congratulate me.
"But I don't recall any of them standing for me publicly when I was being pilloried by the powers that be."
SOURCE: T&T Newsday