DOHA, Qatar — A World Cup era for men ended on Sunday with the biggest final ever played. It was a dichotomous era of rampant corruption, but also of GOATs and commercial growth. Even as the US Justice Department denounced FIFA, global football governance was booming. Revenue has more than quadrupled from 1998, when the first 32-team World Cup was hosted, to 2022. The tournament and its brand, despite the relentless controversy surrounding Qatar, are as popular as ever.
And yet FIFA changes it. The 2026 edition is coming to the United States, Canada and Mexico with 48 teams, a new format and promises of a “massive” impact on football in North America.
However, FIFA’s first assignment will figure out exactly what the new format will look like.
How will the World Cup change in 2026?
Expansion from 32 to 48 teams has presented organizers with a dilemma. FIFA initially settled on 16 groups of three, with two of each three progressing to a knockout phase of 32 teams. But amid growing public opposition, officials have acknowledged that the proposed settlement would deflate the group stage.
“I think we need to rethink, or at least re-discuss, the format,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at a press conference on Friday.
The likely solution would be 12 groups of four, with the top eight teams in third place advancing along with the top two. A better solution would be 12 groups of four, with only the top two advancing, and the top eight group winners bid farewell to the Round of 16. But it’s unclear whether FIFA has considered the latter option.
The 37-member all-powerful FIFA Council will decide on the format and make it final sometime in 2023.
The 2026 World Cup will be grand in every way
Expansion means more games. North America, meanwhile, means bigger stadiums, sponsorship bonanzas and an influx of visitors like the World Cup has never seen before. Infantino said FIFA expects at least 5 million fans from other continents to come to the US, Canada and Mexico, in addition to the millions of North American fans attending matches or participating in festivities.
The 1994 US-hosted tournament, the last with 24 teams, still holds the World Cup record for total attendance. FIFA’s World Cup chief, Colin Smith, said in June that 2026 will break that record and could even double the previous figure.
“2026 is going to be much, much, much bigger,” Infantino agreed. “I think this part of the world doesn’t realize what’s going to happen here in 2026. I mean, these three countries are going to be turned upside down. The world is going to invade Canada, Mexico and the United States. And they’re going to be invaded by a great wave of joy and happiness.”
Accordingly, FIFA has budgeted revenues of $11 billion for the 2026 cycle, a significant increase from the $7.5 billion it has earned over the past four years. Infantino cited broadcast and sponsorship contracts, ticket sales and hospitality packages as reasons for the jump.
He also said: “We are convinced that football will be booming in North America, as we will be going straight to work as of December 19 when it comes to the [next] Men [World Cup]. … We are convinced of that [soccer] becomes the No. 1 sport in North America. Perhaps the number 2 to start with, and then with time – we are convinced of the power of our game.
Where will the 2026 World Cup matches be held?
FIFA chose 16 North American cities, including 11 in the US, to host matches. Those cities (and stadiums) are:
New York/East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)
Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Area)
Boston/Foxborough (Gillette Stadium)
Miami (Hard Rock Stadium)
Atlanta (Mercedes Benz Stadium)
Houston (NRG Stadium)
Dallas/Arlington (AT&T Stadium)
Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium)
Los Angeles/Inglewood (SoFi Stadium)
San Francisco/Santa Clara (Levi’s Stadium)
Mexico City (Estadio Azteca)
Monterrey (Estadio BBVA)
Guadalajara (Akron Stadium)
Toronto (BMO field)
Vancouver (BC City)
FIFA hasn’t said how many matches each city will host, but the North American Bidding Commission originally suggested a minimum of five per U.S. city, including at least two knockout rounds each.
When will we hear the full program?
FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani said in June that “a schedule shell was being worked on”. .
Two sources told Yahoo Sports earlier this year that the two favorites to host the finals were AT&T Stadium in Texas and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
The full schedule, complete with teams and start times, will only be known after qualifying and the World Cup draw, probably in December 2025.
The tournament is likely to start in early June 2026.
Do the US, Canada and Mexico automatically qualify?
Yes. That’s not quite 100% official though, as World Cup berth allocations by confederation have not yet been confirmed, but the US, Canada and Mexico will qualify automatically.
All that, and the qualification structures for each confederation, should be confirmed in the coming year.
What will the USMNT look like in 2026?
The US should be better than it was in 2022, and perhaps better than ever, for reasons explained here and here.
What will be the problems of the 2026 World Cup?
The 2022 World Cup was, at least initially, consumed with criticism of Qatar for its treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ people. The 2026 tournament is unlikely to be as controversial, but organizers are wary of a number of potential issues:
Warmth. Ironically, after all the climate outrage in Qatar, some US cities will be hotter in summer than Doha in November and December. Eight of the 16 North American cities regularly experience June temperatures in the 90s, and only three of those eight stadiums have roofs. Infantino indicated earlier this year that climate-resilient venues could be candidates for midday games, while outdoor games will start in the evening. But heat can still affect the fan experience outside of stadiums.
guns. For all the problems of Qatar, it is a very safe country. The US and Mexico, on the other hand, less so. FIFA can enforce strict security at matches and official fan festivals, but it can’t control weapons or guarantee security anywhere else if governments don’t.
Travel. Qatar’s size proved to be an advantage in many ways. North America’s will be tricky – and costly for the environment. It will be very difficult for fans to attend multiple matches at a reasonable price.
Is a World Cup with 64 teams in the future?
The men’s World Cup has now expanded three times in 44 years – roughly once every two decades. And there’s no reason to believe it won’t expand again, to 64 teams, sometime around 2050.
More teams equals more money and more sporting growth. A field with 64 teams is not heavier than a field with 48 teams. It seems likely that the endgame will be a 64-team competition spread across entire regions or continents – i.e. South America, South Asia, or North and West Africa.
When is the next Women’s World Cup?
It’s over – *checks 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 future World Cup hosts be decided?
FIFA decided last week that it will choose a host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup and the 2030 Men’s World Cup in 2024. It will choose a host for the 2031 Women’s World Cup the following year.
US Soccer has said it will bid for the 2027 or 2031 women’s tournament.