With Qatar out of the way, the next men’s World Cup in North America begins in 2026

DOHA, Qatar – The men’s World Cup era ended on Sunday with the biggest final ever played. It was a dichotomous era of endemic corruption, but also an era of goats and commercial growth. Even as FIFA was exposed by the US Department of Justice, the business of world soccer’s governing body thrived. Revenues have more than quadrupled from 1998, when the first 32-team World Cup was held, to 2022. The tournament and its brand, despite the controversy surrounding Qatar, are as popular as ever.

However, FIFA changes it. The 2026 edition will come to the United States, Canada and Mexico with 48 teams, a new format and promises to have an “enormous” impact on North American soccer.

FIFA’s first act, though, will be to find out exactly what the new format will look like.

How will the World Cup change in 2026?

The expansion from 32 to 48 teams presented a dilemma for the organizers. FIFA initially settled on 16 groups of three, with two groups of three advancing to the 32-team knockout stages. But amid a growing public backlash, officials acknowledged that the proposed plan would reduce the role of groups.

“I think we have to reconsider or at least re-discuss the format,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino told a news conference on Friday.

A likely solution would be 12 groups of four, with the eight best third-placed teams advancing along with the two best teams. The best solution would be 12 groups of four with only the top two qualifying, and bye to the top eight winners in the Round of 16. But it is unclear whether FIFA has considered the latter option.

The 37-member and all-powerful FIFA Council will decide and finalize the format sometime in 2023.

The 2026 World Cup is going to be huge in every possible way

Expansion means more games. Meanwhile, North America means bigger stadiums, sponsorship bonuses, and an influx of visitors unlike anything World Cups have seen before. Infantino said FIFA expects at least 5 million fans from other continents to arrive in the United States, Canada and Mexico, in addition to the millions of fans from North America who will go to matches or take part in celebrations.

The 1994 tournament hosted by the United States, which was the last with 24 teams participating, still holds the World Cup record for total attendance. FIFA World Cup chief Colin Smith said in June that 2026 would break that record, and could double the previous one.

“The year 2026 will be much bigger,” Infantino agreed. “I think this part of the world does not realize what will happen here in 2026. I mean, these three countries will be upside down. The world will be invaded by Canada, Mexico and the United States. And they will be invaded by a great wave of joy and happiness.”

The World Cup is coming to North America in 2026. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Accordingly, FIFA has set aside $11 billion in revenue for the 2026 cycle, a significant jump from the $7.5 billion it generated over the past four years. Infantino cited broadcast contracts, sponsorships, ticket sales and hospitality packages as reasons for the jump.

He also said: “We are convinced that football will thrive in North America, because we will start working immediately, from December 19, when it comes to [next] Men’s [World Cup]. … We are convinced of that [soccer] It will become the #1 sport in North America. Maybe No. 2 to start with, and then over time – we’re convinced of the strength of our game.”

Where will the 2026 World Cup matches be held?

FIFA has selected 16 cities in North America, including 11 in the United States, to host the matches. Those cities (and stadiums) are:

  • New York/East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)

  • Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial District)

  • Boston/Foxboro (Gillette Stadium)

  • Miami (Hard Rock Stadium)

  • Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

  • Houston (NRG Stadium)

  • Dallas/Arlington (AT&T Stadium)

  • Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium)

  • Los Angeles / Englewood (SoFi Stadium)

  • San Francisco/Santa Clara (Levi’s Stadium)

  • Seattle (Bore Field)

  • Mexico City (Azteca Stadium)

  • Monterrey (BBVA Stadium)

  • Guadalajara (Akron Stadium)

  • Toronto (BMO Field)

  • Vancouver (BC Place)

FIFA did not say how many matches each city would host, but the North American Bidding Committee originally proposed a minimum of five matches in each American city, including at least two matches in the knockout round per city.

When will we know the full schedule?

FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani said in June that the schedule was “a work in progress”. It could be released in late 2023 or early 2024, and should reveal the dates and locations of each match from the (opening) match through to the final. .

Two sources told Yahoo Sports earlier this year that the favorites to host the final are AT&T Stadium in Texas and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The full schedule, filled with teams and kick-off times, will not be known until after the qualifiers and the World Cup draw, most likely in December 2025.

The tournament is likely to start in early June 2026.

Will the United States, Canada and Mexico automatically qualify?

Yeah. However, this is not 100% official, because the allocation of World Cup berths by the federation has not yet been confirmed, but the United States, Canada and Mexico will automatically qualify.

All of that, and the qualification structures for each federation, must 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 perhaps better than ever, for reasons explained here and here.

ARLINGTON, US - SEPTEMBER 8: A general view of the stadium before a friendly match between Argentina and Mexico at AT&T Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Arlington, US.  (Photo by Omar Vega/Latino Content via Getty Images)

AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is one of the options to host the 2026 World Cup Final. (Photo by Omar Vega/Latino Content via Getty Images)

What will be the problems of the 2026 World Cup?

The 2022 World Cup was overshadowed, at least early on, with criticism of Qatar over its treatment of migrant workers and LGBT people. The 2026 tournament will likely not be controversial, but organizers are wary of some potential issues:

  1. the heat. Ironically, after all the protests about Qatar’s climate, some American cities will be hotter in the summer than Doha is in November and December. Eight out of 16 cities in North America regularly experience June temperatures in the 90s, and only three of those eight stadiums have roofs. Infantino indicated earlier this year that climate-resistant courts could be candidates for afternoon games, while games on outdoor courts will begin in the evening. But the heat could affect fans’ experience away from the stadiums.

  2. guns. For all of Qatar’s problems, it is a very safe country. On the other hand, the United States and Mexico are less so. FIFA can enforce strict security measures at official matches and fan fests, but it cannot control guns and ensure safety elsewhere if governments do not.

  3. Travel. Qatar’s size, in many ways, turned out to be advantageous. North America would be troublesome – and environmentally costly. It will be very difficult for fans to attend many matches for a reasonable price.

Will 64 teams participate in the World Cup finals in the future?

The men’s World Cup has expanded three times in 44 years – about once every two decades. And there’s no reason to think it won’t expand again, to 64 teams, sometime around 2050.

More teams means more money and more athletic growth. A field of 64 teams is no more difficult 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 – that is, South America, South Asia, or North and West Africa.

What date is the next Women’s World Cup?

It’s in – *checking calendar* – seven months!

The gap between Qatar and the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which kicks off on July 20, will be the shortest ever between the two tournaments.

When will the future hosts of the World Cup be decided?

FIFA decided last week that it will choose hosts for the 2027 Women’s World Cup and the 2030 Men’s World Cup in 2024. The following year, it will choose the host country for the 2031 Women’s World Cup.

US Soccer has said it will bid to host the 2027 or 2031 women’s tournament.

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