Qatar 2022 will go down as the most “compact” FIFA World Cup in history – but 2026 will be very different.
While all matches this time around have been played within an hour’s drive of each other, the next World Cup will be played in three nations – Canada, USA and Mexico.
And it will be an expanded competition, with 16 more teams taking part, which means more matches.
However, the tournament will still be played within five weeks from mid-June 2026.
Questions will be asked about the number of trips players and fans will need to make, with the tournament taking place in 11 US cities, as well as three venues in Mexico and two in Canada.
Sustainability will therefore be an important issue with the considerable number of flights required to transport Fifa teams, fans, media and officials in three countries.
Why will there be more teams than ever in 2026?
Fifa is increasing the next men’s World Cup final from 32 to 48 teams.
This means more money will be generated through sponsorships, merchandising, ticket sales and broadcast revenue, with Fifa expecting to earn $11 billion over the four-year cycle to December 2026.
Huge crowds are expected at the next World Cup as football’s popularity in North America continues to grow.
Fifa expects up to 5.5 million fans to attend the next tournament, breaking the record of 3.6 million fans who attended matches in 1994, when there was an average attendance of 68,000 each match.
The governing body says much of the increased profits will be redistributed to the development of football around the world, with plans including investment to develop women’s football.
The expanded format will increase the number of competing teams from Africa and Asia.
In 2022, there were a total of 11 teams from both confederations in the final – including Qatar, who automatically qualified as hosts, and Australia, who took part in the Asian qualifier and then beat Peru during an intercontinental dam.
In 2026, there will be a minimum of 17 teams from both confederations – and there could be as many as 19, depending on which two countries win in the six-team intercontinental qualifiers for the final.
At least six Concacaf teams will qualify for the World Cup, including Canada, Mexico and the United States as hosts – and the federation will also have two teams in the play-offs.
Where will the matches be played in 2026?
The 16 venues were announced in June, with all the fields already built and with the majority of the large-capacity stadiums used by NFL teams in the United States.
Some of the stadiums will be upgraded before 2026 and some will require the laying of grass surfaces as artificial turf is not permitted by Fifa.
As it stands, the format for 2026 will mean 80 games throughout the tournament – although that could still change. The United States would host 60 games, including all games from the quarter-finals, while neighboring Canada and Mexico would each host 10 games.
The United States and Mexico have hosted the World Cup before – but most venues in 2026 will be different. The United States does not use any of the stadiums from 1994, while Mexico has only one venue from 1970 to 1986 – the iconic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The host sites for 2026 are:
- New York/New Jersey (MetLife Stadium)
- Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium)
- Dallas (AT&T Stadium)
- San Francisco Bay Area (Levi’s Stadium)
- Miami (Hard Rock Stadium)
- Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
- Seattle (Lumen Field)
- Houston (NRG Stadium)
- Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field)
- Kansas City, MO (Arrowhead Stadium)
- Boston/Foxborough (Gillette Stadium)
- Toronto (BMO Field)
- Vancouver (BC Place Stadium)
- Guadalajara (Estadio Akron)
- Mexico City (Azteca Stadium)
- Monterrey (BBVA Bancomer Stadium)
The geographical distribution of the next World Cup has not yet been announced but it is likely that the teams will play their group stage matches in regionalized areas.
There are three main groups of venues, which should help reduce the number of trips needed for at least part of the tournament.
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Los Angeles
- Kansas City
- Mexico City
- philadelphia cream
- New York/New Jersey
How will the 2026 finals be structured?
A final decision will be taken by the FIFA Council in 2023.
The preferred option initially was to have 16 groups of three teams. Each team would play two group games, instead of three, with the top two teams progressing to a new round of 32.
But the downside of this could be that the two teams playing in the last game could play a specific outcome to send both teams out. This is said to have taken place in 1982 when West Germany and Austria advanced at Algeria’s expense in the so-called “Gijon disgrace”.
Given the success of the four-team group format in 2022, the structure for 2026 will be revisited, according to FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
“I have to say that after this World Cup and the success of the groups of four, we have to review or re-discuss the format, whether we opt for 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four.”
Indications are that it will end up being 12 groups of four, effectively split into two halves (like two Euros all at once).
Another possibility, although unlikely, is that group matches are not allowed to end in a draw. If the teams were tied after 90 minutes, the result could be decided by a penalty shootout, without the need for extra time.
Where will the 2026 FIFA World Cup final be played?
This decision has not yet been made, but it will be next year.
The favorite to host the final is MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which has a seating capacity of 82,500 and is home to the New York Giants and New York Jets NFL teams.
Azteca in Mexico have been offered as a potential host for the opening game.
Both venues are in contention to host the 2026 final, but Fifa President Infantino has said world football’s governing body will take its time to make a decision.
“There are still discussions to be had and we will definitely choose the best cities for the openings and the finals,” Infantino said.
“But every game will be like a final in this World Cup.”
And what about 2030?
It will be a special centenary event, 100 years after the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay, which was contested by only 13 teams.
Uruguay have claimed for some time that they should win the tournament, possibly as part of a joint bid with Argentina.
Spain and Portugal are hoping to be offered by UEFA, but England have dropped interest in favor of a UEFA Euro 2028 bid along with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Saudi Arabia could be another potential bidder, although it could mean another winter tournament due to high summer temperatures in the Middle East.
A decision on the hosts for the 2030 tournament will be taken by the FIFA Council in 2024.