With the 2022 World Cup almost over, the world’s most important football tournament is witnessing major changes. After a short, politically-influenced World Cup in the Gulf emirate of Qatar where everything revolves in and around the capital Doha, including eight stadiums, the focus has shifted to a tournament in 2026 that will be bigger in every sense.
Unlike Qatar, in 2026 teams can look forward to a longer distance tournament. The World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico and thus the entire North American subcontinent and thus for the first time in three host countries, having been jointly hosted by the two countries in Japan and South Korea in 2002. For the first and only time till date.
An unprecedented World Cup enormity, which is also reflected in the number of participants: for the first time in 2026, a World Cup final will be played in Qatar with 48 teams instead of 32 as last time. More participants means more games (80 instead of 64 or even more, depending on the mode), more stadiums (16 stadiums instead of eight in Qatar) and above all: more money!
And even more downright unexpected like Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina in Group C’s first game at this World Cup? “We’re going to the tournament [2026, Anm. d Red.] “Look for more surprises from teams in Africa and Asia,” Jürgen Klinsmann, chief analyst at FIFA’s Technical Studies Group, told reporters recently.
back in june and july
In 2026, the World Cup will probably last significantly longer than in Qatar, where the tournament was played over a shorter four-week period due to the timing being in the middle of the season for most top leagues. Furthermore, the World Cup will return to its traditional period of the year in June and July. However, the exact date of the tournament is still pending.
However, FIFA has already determined 16 venues in three countries. According to the current plan, ten World Cup games are to be played in Mexico with venues in Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City, and Vancouver and Toronto in Canada.
The remaining games, including the entire knockout stage, are to be held in the main host country, the USA. Here are New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the last World Cup game in the USA took place in front of the gates of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. As in 1994, places are intended.
World champions at the first World Cup in the United States in 1994: Brazil with the then 17-year-old Ronaldo (centre)
Revolution in group mode?
It remains doubtful in which mode the 48 participants will play the group stage. Because with 48 participants in groups of four – as usual, the two group leaders would move on to the knockout stage – 22 teams would advance, with the eleven teams in the second knockout round mode no longer working. Various variants were therefore discussed: twelve groups of four out of which the eight best third-placed teams would advance, thus a total of 32 teams. Or a version with 16 groups of three, from which the first two will advance, and thus 32 teams.
However, FIFA apparently fears too many constellations that have already been decided before the last day of play with a three-way group variant and thus meaningless third group games. There would also be a risk of collusion if two teams meeting on the final day of play could result in a draw while the third group sees a rival.
“After the success of this World Cup and the four-team groups, we have to [den Modus der Gruppenphase, Anm. d. Red.] discuss again. You didn’t know who would advance until the last minute of the game,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino at his final World Cup press conference in Doha on Friday. The tension in the groups was unbelievable, summed up the most powerful man in world football until 2031. Could stay.
As announced by Infantino, his first year in office as of 2019, following the resignation of his predecessor Sepp Blatter in 2015 and his takeover in 2016, does not count as a separate term. Accordingly, his first regular term began only with the 2019 election, the second thereafter with re-election in March 2023 at the FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, where Infantino ran unopposed. A possible third term under FIFA law could see Infantino reinstated as head of the world confederation from 2027 to 2031 if re-elected.
Chance for World Cup debutants
In the past, one can also read about FIFA’s idea of dividing the field of participants into two blocks of 24, in which the two winners would play according to the league principle, who would then meet in the World Cup final. Many question marks remain, but one way or another there will be a break with the established 32 World Cup system that has been played in the United States since the 1994 World Cup. The reason is money once again, FIFA can expect billions in revenue growth as a result of World Cup reform. A decision on the mode is expected in 2023.
One issue that has already been decided is the allocation of qualifying spots to continental confederations. Naturally, everyone will have more World Cup starting places: Europe (UEFA) with 16 instead of the earlier 13, Africa (CAF) with nine instead of the earlier five, Asia (AFC) with four to five depending on the playoffs. Instead of eight, North and Central America (CONCACAF) earlier playoffs depended three to five instead of six, South America (CONMEBOL) earlier playoffs depended four to five instead of six. Oceania (OFC) will also for the first time have a fixed starting spot, instead of the previous playoff spot for the winner of the qualification. Australia’s participation and the associated possibility of direct qualification in Asia and the lack of competition for the then fixed qualification spot in Oceania made New Zealand’s participation in the World Cup very likely.
Former Nigeria international Sunday Oliseh said, “It is a blessing for us Africans.” “We are a continent with 54 countries and have already seen ourselves under-represented in the World Cup.” The more times you play the lottery, the higher are your chances of winning, says the former professional who played for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. “I don’t think the quality is down [der Aufstockung auf 48 Teilnehmer, Anm. d Red.] will suffer, on the contrary.”
Text adapted from English
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