Qatar 2022 will rank as the most ‘tight’ FIFA World Cup in history – but 2026 will be very different.
While this time all matches were played within an hour’s drive of each other, the next World Cup will be played across three countries – Canada, the United States and Mexico.
It will be an expanded competition, with 16 more teams participating, which means more matches.
However, the tournament will continue within five weeks from mid-June 2026.
Questions will be asked about how many trips players and fans will have to take, as the tournament is being held in 11 US cities, along with three venues in Mexico and two in Canada.
Thus, sustainability will be an important issue with the large number of flights needed to transport teams, fans, media and FIFA officials across three countries.
Why will there be more difference than ever before in 2026?
FIFA expands the upcoming men’s World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.
This means more money will be generated through sponsorship, merchandising, ticket sales and broadcast revenue, with FIFA expecting to earn $11 billion over the four years to December 2026.
Large crowds are expected for the upcoming World Cup as soccer’s popularity in North America continues to grow.
FIFA expects as many as 5.5 million fans to attend the next tournament, beating the record of 3.6 million fans who attended matches in 1994, when the average attendance was 68,000 per match.
The board claims much of the increased profits will be redistributed to develop football around the world, with projects including investment to expand the women’s game.
The expanded format will increase the number of competing teams from Africa and Asia.
In 2022, there were a total of 11 teams from all continents in the finals – including Qatar, who qualified automatically as host, and Australia, who competed in the Asian Qualifiers and then beat Peru in an intercontinental play-off.
In 2026, there will be a minimum of 17 teams from all confederations – and there could be as many as 19, depending on which two countries win via the six-team intercontinental play-offs at the Finals.
No fewer than six CONCACAF teams will qualify for the World Cup, including Canada, Mexico and the United States as hosts – and the Confederation will have two teams in the play-offs as well.
Where will the matches be held in 2026?
The 16 stadiums were announced in June, with all of the stadiums already built, and with the majority of large-capacity stadiums used by NFL teams in the United States.
Some stadiums will be upgraded before 2026 and others will require grass surfaces to be put in, as FIFA does not allow the use of artificial turf.
As it stands, the 2026 format will mean 80 matches across the tournament – Although this could still change. The United States will host 60 matches, including every match from the quarter-finals onwards, while neighboring Canada and Mexico will host 10 matches each.
Both the US and Mexico have hosted the World Cup before – but most of the venues in 2026 will be different. The United States has not used any of the stadiums since 1994, while Mexico only had one between 1970 and 1986 – the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The host venues for 2026 are:
- New York/New Jersey (MetLife Stadium)
- Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium)
- Dallas (AT&T Stadium)
- San Francisco Bay Area (Levis Stadium)
- Miami (Hard Rock Stadium)
- Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
- Seattle (Bore Field)
- Houston (NRG Stadium)
- Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial District)
- Kansas City, Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium)
- Boston/Foxboro (Gillette Stadium)
- Toronto (BMO Field)
- Vancouver (BC Place)
- Guadalajara (Akron Stadium)
- Mexico City (Estadio Azteca)
- Monterrey (BBVA Bancomer Stadium)
The geographic spread of the next World Cup has not been announced, but it is likely that teams will play their group stage matches in regional areas.
There are three main groups of venues, which should help reduce the amount of travel required for at least part of the tournament.
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Kansas City
- Mexico City
- New York / New Jersey
How will the 2026 finals be organized?
The final decision will be made by the FIFA Council in 2023.
The initial preferred option was to have 16 groups of three teams. Each team will play two group matches, instead of three, with the top two teams advancing to a new round of 32.
But the downside to this could be that the two teams playing the last match can trigger a set score to send both teams into the match. It was alleged that this happened in 1982 when West Germany and Austria advanced at the expense of Algeria in the so-called “Shame of Gijón”.
Given the success of the four-team group format in 2022, the structure is for 2026 will be reviewed, According to FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
“I would have to say after this World Cup, and the success of the fours, we have to reconsider or re-discuss the format whether we are going to play 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four.”
Indications are that it will end up in 12 sets of four, effectively divided in half (like two Euros in one go).
Another possibility, though it seems unlikely, is that group matches may not be allowed to end in a draw. If the two teams are tied after 90 minutes, the result can be decided by penalty shootout without the need for extra time.
Where will the 2026 World Cup final be held?
That decision hasn’t been made yet but it will be next year.
The front-runner to host the Final is MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, which has a capacity of 82,500 and is home to the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.
Mexico’s Azteca has been mooted as a potential host for the opening match.
Both stadiums are in contention to host the 2026 final, but FIFA President Infantino said the world football’s governing body would take its time to make a decision.
“There are still some discussions that have to go on and we will certainly choose the best cities for the Openings and Finals,” said Infantino.
“But every game is like a final in this World Cup.”
And what about 2030?
This will be a special centenary event, 100 years after the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay, in which only 13 teams participated.
Uruguay has claimed for some time that it should be awarded the championship, possibly in a joint bid with Argentina.
Spain and Portugal hope UEFA will bid on it, but England have dropped interest in bidding for Euro 2028 alongside Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Saudi Arabia could be another potential bidder, though that could mean another winter tournament due to the summer temperatures in the Middle East being soaring.
A decision on the hosts for the 2030 tournament will be taken by the FIFA Council in 2024.
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