DOHA, Qatar — An era of the men’s World Cup came to an end on Sunday with the biggest ever final. It was a dichotomous era of endemic corruption, but also of GOATs and business growth. Even when the US Department of Justice unveiled FIFA, business for soccer’s world governing body exploded. Revenues have more than quadrupled from 1998, when the first 32-team World Cup was staged, to 2022. The tournament and its brand, despite the ongoing controversy surrounding Qatar, are more popular than ever.
And yet, FIFA is changing it. The 2026 edition will come to the United States, Canada and Mexico with 48 teams, an unprecedented format and promises of a “massive” impact on soccer in North America.
FIFA’s first order of business, however, will be figuring out what exactly the new format will look like.
How will the World Cup evolve in 2026?
The expansion from 32 to 48 teams left organizers with a dilemma. FIFA initially opted for 16 groups of three, with two from each three qualifying for a 32-team knockout stage. But amid growing public resistance, officials acknowledged the proposed schedule would deflate the group stage.
“I think we need to review, or at least re-discuss the format,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino told a press conference on Friday.
The likely solution would be 12 groups of four, with the eight best teams in third place progressing alongside the top two. A better solution would be 12 groups of four, with only the top two progressing and the top eight group winners getting byes to the knockout stages. But it’s unclear if FIFA has considered the latter option.
The all-powerful 37-member FIFA Council will decide and finalize the format in 2023.
The 2026 World Cup will be massive in every possible way
Expansion means more games. North America, meanwhile, means bigger stadiums, sponsorship deals and an unprecedented influx of visitors. Infantino said FIFA expects at least 5 million fans from other continents to descend on the United States, Canada and Mexico, in addition to the millions of North American fans who will go to matches or will take part in the festivities.
The 1994 tournament hosted by the United States, the last with 24 teams, still holds the World Cup record for total attendance. FIFA World Cup chief Colin Smith said in June that 2026 would smash that record and could even double the previous mark.
“2026 will be much, much, much bigger,” Infantino agreed. “I think this part of the world doesn’t realize what’s going to happen here in 2026. I mean, these three countries will be upside down. The world will invade Canada, Mexico and the United States. And they’ll be invaded by a great wave of joy and happiness.”
As a result, FIFA has budgeted $11 billion in revenue for the 2026 cycle, a huge jump from the $7.5 billion made over the past four years. Infantino cited broadcast and sponsorship deals, ticket sales and hospitality packages as reasons for the jump.
He also said: “We are confident that football will be booming in North America as we will begin work immediately, starting December 19, on the [next] Men’s [World Cup]. … We are convinced that [soccer] will become the number 1 sport in North America. Maybe number 2 to start with, then over time we are convinced of the power of our game.”
Where will the 2026 World Cup matches take place?
FIFA has chosen 16 North American cities, including 11 in the United States, to host matches. These cities (and stadiums) are:
New York/East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)
Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field)
Boston/Foxborough (Gillette Stadium)
Miami (Hard Rock Stadium)
Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
Houston (NRG Stadium)
Dallas/Arlington (AT&T Stadium)
Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium)
Los Angeles/Inglewood (SoFi Stadium)
San Francisco/Santa Clara (Levi’s Stadium)
Seattle (Lumen Field)
Mexico City (Estadio Azteca)
Monterrey (Estadio BBVA)
Guadalajara (Estadio Akron)
Toronto (BMO Field)
Vancouver (BC Square)
FIFA has not specified how many matches each city will host, but the North American bid committee had originally proposed a minimum of five matches per US city, including at least two knockout matches each.
When will we know the full program?
FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani said in June that a calendar envelope was “under development”. It could be released in late 2023 or early 2024, and is expected to reveal both the dates and venues of every game from the opening game(s) through to the final. .
Two sources told Yahoo Sports earlier this year that the two favorites to host the final were AT&T Stadium in Texas and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
The full schedule, with teams and kick-off times, won’t be known until after qualifying and the World Cup draw, likely in December 2025.
The tournament will probably start in early June 2026.
Will USA, Canada and Mexico qualify automatically?
Yes. It’s not quite official, however, as the allocation of World Cup places by confederation has not yet been confirmed, but the United States, Canada and Mexico will automatically qualify.
All of this, along with the qualifying structures of each confederation, should be confirmed over the next year.
What will the USMNT look like by 2026?
The United States should be better than it was in 2022, and possibly better than ever, for reasons explained here and here.
What will be the problems of the 2026 World Cup?
The 2022 World Cup was consumed, at least initially, by criticism of Qatar for its treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ people. The 2026 tournament is unlikely to be as controversial, but organizers are wary of a few potential issues:
Heat. Ironically, after all the outcry over Qatar’s weather, some US cities will be hotter in the summer than Doha was in November and December. Eight of 16 North American cities regularly experience June temperatures in the 90s, and only three of those eight stadiums have roofs. Infantino indicated earlier this year that climate-proof venues could be candidates for afternoon matches, while outdoor matches will start in the evening. But the heat could still impact the experience for fans away from stadiums.
Fire arms. Despite all the problems in Qatar, it is a very safe country. The United States and Mexico, on the other hand, are less so. FIFA can impose strict security at matches and official fan festivals, but it cannot control guns and provide security everywhere else if governments do not.
Trip. Qatar’s size, in many ways, has proven to be an advantage. That of North America will be inconvenient and costly for the environment. It will be very difficult for fans to attend several matches at a reasonable price.
Is a 64-team World Cup in the future?
The Men’s World Cup has expanded three times in 44 years, or about once every two decades. And there’s no reason to think it won’t expand again, to 64 teams, around 2050.
More teams means more money and more sporting growth. A field of 64 teams is no heavier than a field of 48 teams. It seems likely that the final game will be a 64-team competition spread across entire regions or continents, i.e. South America, South Asia or North and East Africa. West.
When is the next Women’s World Cup?
It’s in — *checks the calendar* — seven months!
The gap between Qatar and the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which begins on July 20, will be the shortest on record between the two tournaments.
When will future World Cup hosts be determined?
FIFA decided last week that it will choose the hosts for the 2027 Women’s World Cup and the 2030 Men’s World Cup in 2024. The following year, it will choose a host for the 2031 Women’s World Cup.
US Soccer has said it will bid for the 2027 or 2031 women’s tournament.
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