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Mega World Cup 2026 in USA, Canada and Mexico – Opportunities, Questions and “Gift from Heaven”? | Sports | DW

With the 2022 World Cup almost over, big changes are looming on the horizon for the world’s most important football tournament. After politically taking over the short-distance World Cup in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, including eight stadiums in and around the capital Doha, the focus is on the tournament in 2026, which will be bigger in every way.

In contrast to Qatar, teams can expect a long-distance competition in 2026. The World Cup will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, making it the first time that the entire North American subcontinent will be hosted by three host countries since Japan and South Korea shared the two countries in 2002. A first and simultaneous to date.

The unprecedented World Cup grandeur is also reflected in the number of participants: for the first time in 2026, the World Cup finals will be played in Qatar with 48 teams instead of 32 last time. More participants means more games (80 instead of 64 or more, depending on the mode), more stadiums (16 stadiums instead of eight in Qatar) and above all: more money!

And as sportingly unexpected as Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina in their Group C opener at this World Cup? “We’re going to compete [2026, Anm. d Red.] “We will see many more surprises from African and Asian teams,” Jurgen Klinsmann, chief analyst of FIFA’s technical analysis team, told reporters recently.

Again in June and July

In 2026, the World Cup will last significantly longer than in Qatar, where matches were held within a short four-week period due to the mid-season timing of most top leagues. Additionally, the World Cup will return to its traditional schedule in June and July. However, the exact date for the match is still pending.

However, FIFA has already decided on 16 venues across three countries. As per the current schedule, ten World Cup matches are to be played in Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City in Mexico and Vancouver and Toronto in Canada.

The rest of the matches, including the entire knockout stage, will be played in the main host country, the United States. Here are New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the USA’s last World Cup game took place in front of the gates of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. In 1994, places were considered.

World champions at the first World Cup in the US in 1994: Brazil with a then 17-year-old Ronaldo (centre)

A group revolution?

How the 48 participants will play in the group stage remains in question. With 48 participating in groups of four – as usual, the two group leaders will advance to the knockout stage – 22 teams will advance, and the eleven-team system for the second knockout round will no longer work. So the different categories were discussed: the eight best third-placed teams from twelve groups of four and a total of 32 teams would advance. Or a variation of 16 groups of three, from which the top two and 32 teams advance.

However, FIFA apparently scares many stars, which has already been decided before the last day of the game with three-way group variance and meaningless third group games. If two teams meet on the last day of play and the third team’s opponent draws a draw each, there is a risk of a clash.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks during the final press conference of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Big plans, big promises: FIFA president Gianni Infantino

“After this World Cup and the success of the four-team groups, we have to [den Modus der Gruppenphase, Anm. d. Red.] Discuss again. “You don’t know who will advance until the last minute of the game,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said at his final World Cup press conference in Doha on Friday. The tension in the groups was incredible, summing up the most powerful man in the world. Football may continue until 2031.

As Infantino announced, his first years in office until 2019 did not count as a separate term, following the resignation of his predecessor Sepp Blatter in 2015 and his taking over in 2016. Accordingly, his first regular term began only with the 2019 election, and the second was re-elected in March 2023 at the FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, where Infantino ran unopposed. Infantino could be re-elected as the world body’s president from 2027 to 2031 if re-elected for a possible third term under FIFA rules.

A chance for debutants at the World Cup

In the past, one can read about FIFA’s considerations of dividing the field of participants into 24 blocks, in which the two winners will play according to the league principle, and then they will meet in the World Cup final. There are many question marks, but one way or another there will be a break with the established 32 World Cup system played in the USA since the 1994 World Cup. The reason for this is again money, and FIFA can expect billions in revenue growth as a result of World Cup reform. A decision on mode is expected in 2023.

One issue that has already been decided is the allocation of qualification spots for continental confederations. Naturally, everyone will have more World Cup starting spots: Europe (UEFA) 16 instead of 13, Africa (CAF) nine instead of five, Asia (AFC) eight instead of four to five, North and Central America (CONCACAF) depending on the previous playoff. Six instead of three-to-five, South America (CONMEBOL) relies on a four-to-five playoff instead. Oceania (OFC) will also have a fixed starting spot for the first time, instead of the previous playoff spot for the winner of the qualifiers. Australia’s participation and the prospect of direct qualification in Asia and the lack of competition for the then-standard qualification spot in Oceania make New Zealand’s participation in the World Cup very possible.

“It’s a godsend for us Africans,” says former Nigeria international Sunday Oliseh. “We’re a continent of 54 nations and we’ve already seen underrepresentation at the World Cup.” The more you play the lottery, the more likely you are to win, says the former professional who played for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. I don’t think the quality is down [der Aufstockung auf 48 Teilnehmer, Anm. d Red.] Instead they will suffer.”

The text is adapted from English