3 countries, 48 teams: How will the 2026 World Cup work?
History will be made in 2026 as for the first time, a World Cup will be hosted by three countries. United States of America, Canada, and Mexico won the rights to host the biggest football fiesta. Being the first time this will be happening in the history of the tournament, many people are questioning how the event will be conducted in three countries.
The North American bid earned a total of 134 votes, while Morocco garnered 65. USA hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994, while Mexico has twice before organised the tournament, in 1970 and in 1986. Canada had never hosted this global biggest sporting fiesta but, had staged the 2015 FIFA Women World Cup.
USA, Canada, and Mexico had been considered favorites throughout the bidding process, despite some suggesting the controversial politics of American president Donald Trump could help Morocco.
How it will work
A total of 23 cities across the three countries are bidding to be selected as one of the 16 eventual host cities. Mexico and Canada are expected to host 10 matches each, using three stadiums, with the USA hosting the remaining 60 games in 10 stadiums.
Mexico and Canada would each host seven group matches, two matches in the round of 32, and one match in the round of 16. Every game from the quarter-final stage onwards would be in the USA, with the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey expected to stage the final itself.
The bid document suggests that the opening day of the tournament could consist of three matches, one taking place in each country, and featuring the relevant host nation.
One strength of the joint bid is that every city wanting to take part has stadiums that are already built and operating, with an average capacity greater than 68,000, and with guaranteed continued use after the tournament.
The 48-team tournament format
The 48 teams will be divided into 16 groups of three. The top two teams in each group will progress to a new knock-out phase of 32. It means that 16 teams will go home after playing just two matches, and critics have argued that a format featuring groups comprised of three teams is likely to be very unbalanced.
There is also, some say, a significant disadvantage to being the team that does not feature in the opening group game. Sixteen countries will start their campaigns against a team who have already played. If that team won their opening game they will know they only need a point to progress. If they lost it, they know they need a win to stand any chance of avoiding elimination. Both suggest a very different approach to a game where both teams start on zero points.
Supporters of expansion say the strength of the format is that while it adds 16 extra teams, it adds only 16 extra matches, and barely impacts the number of days it takes to play the tournament. The two teams who reach the final will have still played six matches to get there, as they currently do. In effect, 32 teams are still guaranteed to have at least three matches in the competition, which is what happens in the current 32 team format.