Analyzing the 2026 World Cup Format – All You Need to Know

The 2022 World Cup is over. It obviously brought a lot of interesting moments with it, not least Lionel Messi finally crowning his incredible career with the biggest trophy the game has to offer, but also many things regarding the organization of the tournament itself.

The talking points in that aspect mostly revolved around Qatar as the country chosen to host it, it’s rather strict laws and questionable human rights record, as well as the deaths of a large number of workers while the modern stadiums in and around Doha were built.

The one thing which didn’t cause much talk was the competition format. It was the same as for a number of previous editions – 32 teams split into eight groups of four, with two teams from each group progressing to the round of 16 and so on. The format, however, seems set to be main topic of discussion for the next World Cup, which is to take place in the USA, Canada and Mexico in 2026.

The changes

First of all, it will be the first time that the World Cup takes place in three countries. Mexico will set a new record as the first country to have hosted the tournament three times in its history, though the majority of the games, 60, will be played in America across 11 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

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The remaining 20 games will be shared between Canada (Toronto and Vancouver) and Mexico (Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey), which brings the total number to 80 matches, 16 more than this year’s tournament in Qatar.

The biggest difference is obviously that there will be 48 teams involved, 16 more than before, and instead of eight groups of four, they will be drawn in 16 groups of three. The first knockout round will be a round of 32, which, combined with the fact that each team will play only two group matches, means the eventual finalists will have played a total of seven games, the same as before.

The reasons

Well, there isn’t too much point in discussing the reasons why FIFA have decided to shake things up in this manner. First of all, more countries will take part, bringing the game to the centre of attention for a while in each and every one of them, raising its popularity levels and promoting its values across the globe.

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But there is, of course, the other side of things as always. More participating countries and more matches means more revenue, more money for the hosting countries whose economies will be significantly boosted. The economic activity triggered by such a massive event is expected to amount to around $5 billion. That, of course, means more money for FIFA as well.

As for the football itself, it’s not easy to tell in advance how these changes will affect the quality of the tournament itself. The aspects which first come to mind that there will be greater pressure on teams labeled as favourites to deliver right from the start, with less room for comebacks after potential poor starts. There will also be one chance more for each of them to slip up in one of the knockout rounds.

All this is, however, mere speculation. The fact is that the tournament in North America in 2026 will the the first in this shape, and that in itself will make things interesting.

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