World Cup 2026: The smallest World Cup in living memory is now over, and we can all start preparing for the largest.
Football is no longer played in Doha’s towering skyscrapers, glittering stadiums, or shining Metro stations.
Despite all the rhetoric about opening up new horizons and “bringing people together,” the truth is that Fifa is ecstatic to be waving goodbye to Qatar, the uproar, and the criticism.
The next iteration of the event that truly unites the world in passion was on people’s minds even before the suitcases were packed.
Not one city, but three nations will host the 2026 World Cup. Instead of the distance between Selhurst Park and Kenilworth Road, the event will be spread out over 16 venues, four time zones, and thousands of kilometers.
Instead of the 32 teams that have been the standard since 1998, with 48 teams, the world will see more teams from Asia, the Americas, and Africa, even a sure spot for Oceania for the first time.
And most likely a record 33 days and 104 matches as well.
There will be 12 groups of four, but the next level is where the real problems lie.
The easiest scenario would be for the top two teams in each group to go to the final 32 and win eight games as opposed to the usual seven.
However, there are some who contend that the top eight group winners should advance automatically, with the other four group winners and the eight runners-up competing to join them.
With only 64 matches in Qatar, that would mean 96 games rather than 104, which would not only pose problems but also make the 2022 World Cup the smallest by a wide margin.
Teams that were drawn in an “easy” starting group and easily won all three games would be rewarded for the luck of the draw, and the idea that each team must play the same amount of games to win the largest prize in football would be altered.
The 24 competing teams might also be divided into two parts, with the “winner” of each sector meeting in the championship game.
If the tournament is divided into geographical “east” and “west” sections, that would mean the top two joined by the four best third-place sides in their half, even if they weren’t among the top eight third-place teams overall.
But the number of games played each day in the group round is another aspect that will be quite different.
The initial stage in Qatar was shortened to 29 days and featured four matches per day.
However, the major European clubs will exert tremendous pressure on Fifa to limit an expanded competition to a maximum of 33 days.
The answer is clear: up to six games a day in the first round, although that is more likely in 2026 than it is in any other future venue.
New York and Boston, as well as other East Coast locations like Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, are five hours behind the UK.
In one scenario, the first game of the day might begin in Toronto at noon local time, which is five o’clock in the UK.
The last match in San Francisco might start at 9.30 p.m. local time, which is 5.30 a.m. at home, with matches starting every 212 hours in Atlanta, Houston, Mexico City, and Vancouver. However, Fifa still has a problem.
The first three games of the day will be demanded by the main European broadcasters, but you cannot place Spain, Germany, England, France, Portugal, and Holland in the same part of the draw.
South American supporters would also choose later West Coast games.
Fifa made an effort to defend the selection of Qatar by emphasizing the short travel distances faced by teams and promoting sustainability, carbon offsetting, and green credentials.
Driving between several of the cities in 2026 is impractical. Everyone will have to fly back and forth across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
From New York to Boston, let alone Seattle, it is difficult to find a train.
But Gianni Infantino and company will have to deal with that. This won’t be simple.
2026 FIFA World Cup
The national teams of the FIFA member countries compete in the quadrennial international men’s soccer competition known as the FIFA World Cup, which will take place for the 23rd time in 2026.
16 towns from three North American nations—Canada, Mexico, and the United States—will jointly host the competition.
Every match from the quarterfinals on will be played in the United States, which will host 60 games. Neighboring countries Canada and Mexico will each host 10 games.
The event will include three countries hosting it for the first time. Argentina currently holds the title after defeating France 4-2 on penalties in the 2022 final game.
This tournament will be the first to involve 48 teams, expanded from 32. The United 2026 bid overcame a competing bid by Morocco during a final vote at the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow.
It will be the first World Cup to have multiple countries hosting since 2002. Mexico will become the first nation to host or co-host the men’s World Cup three times thanks to its prior hosting of the tournaments in 1970 and 1986.
Canada will be hosting or co-hosting the men’s event for the first time; the United States last held the World Cup in 1994.
The tournament’s expansion to 40 teams was first proposed by Michel Platini, who was the president of UEFA at the time, in October 2013. FIFA President Gianni Infantino then proposed the same concept in March 2016.
On October 4, 2016, it was declared that the competition would be expanded from the original 32-team format. Four ideas for growth were taken into account:
- Expand to 40 teams (eight groups of five teams) – 88 matches
- Expand to 40 teams (ten groups of four teams) – 76 matches
- Expand to 48 teams (opening 32-team playoff round) – 80 matches
- Expand to 48 teams (16 groups of three teams) – 80 matches
The decision to increase the tournament’s size to 48 teams was made by the FIFA Council on January 10, 2017, after considering the other three choices.
The first phase of the competition will feature a group stage with 16 groups of three teams each, with the top two teams from each group moving on to a knockout round with 32 teams.
The total number of games played will rise from 64 to 80 under this format, while the number of games played by the winners stays at seven, the same as it was with 32 teams.
In order to make up for the additional knockout round, each team will play one fewer group match than they would have under the previous structure.
The competition will likewise be finished in 32 days, much like previous tournaments with 32 teams.