Soccer-World Cup going from compact to super-sized in 2026
THE STORY CONTINUES BELOW THESE SALTWIRE VIDEOS
By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – As the most compact World Cup ever culminates in Qatar on Sunday, the baton will be passed to the 2026 co-hosts the United States, Mexico and Canada for an oversized global football showcase of more games and travel – and a lot more beer.
After Qatar, a country smaller than the state of Connecticut, controversially gave hosting duties in 2022, the football governing body FIFA will make it big in 2026, increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 with games in three nations and as many time zones.
The last time Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994) hosted a World Cup, 24 teams participated.
With 16 cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico hosting games, the logistics will be mind-boggling even before 48 team training bases are added.
The 2026 tournament will return to its traditional summer window, having been played in Qatar in November and December to avoid the scorching temperatures of June and July. Most of the competition takes place in the United States, where 11 cities from New York to Los Angeles play 60 of the 80 games, including the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey are the Mexican venues, with Toronto and Vancouver taking on the Canadian role as hosts.
While the World Cup in Qatar was at times overshadowed by the Gulf state’s treatment of migrant workers and its handling of LGBTQ rights and other restrictive social laws, FIFA chief Gianni Infantino praised the action on the pitch and called the group stage the best ever.
“SURPRISES FROM AFRICA AND ASIA”
This tried-and-tested format of eight groups of four teams, which has thrilled hundreds of millions of fans, could be scaled up for 2026 as FIFA plans to field 16 groups of three teams in the first phase.
More teams means more surprises, like Saudi Arabia against Argentina in the group opener, says Jürgen Klinsmann, who won the World Cup with Germany and later coached the US men’s national team.
“We will see more surprises from Africa and Asia at the tournament (2026),” Klinsmann, head of FIFA’s technical group, told reporters in Qatar.
The 32-team World Cup in Qatar has a total of 64 matches to be played over 29 days, and for now the 2026 finals will feature 80 matches over 32 days.
For four-team groups, it would be 104 games, which would take at least an extra week.
However, more games would mean more money for television rights and with the World Cup bringing in around 90% of FIFA’s revenue, its leaders will be tempted.
The World Cup in Qatar has brought in $7.5 billion in rights and sponsorship revenue, a billion more than the 2018 finals in Russia, FIFA said last month.
One sponsor almost certainly looking forward to 2026 is Budweiser, the official beer of the World Cup, which had its stadium taps shut off by Qatari officials just days before launch.
At the first World Cup to be held in a conservative Muslim country with strict alcohol controls, finding beer or alcohol in Qatar was challenging and expensive when it was found.
But in 2026, faucets will be flowing in 20 stadiums, along with fan zones filled with thirsty fans.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)