World Cup 2026: A primer on the expanded tournament coming to North America

The 2026 World Cup has been awarded to Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, now takes over the tournament, working with the three countries.

A look at some questions surrounding the men’s soccer showcase:

Is Canada guaranteed three host cities?

Edmonton (Commonwealth Stadium), Montreal (Olympic Stadium) and Toronto (BMO Field) were among the 23 candidate host cities in the North American bid book with FIFA expected to select up to 16 cities. Canadian officials say they will push to keep all three of their host cities. The bid group has been working under the premise of three cities in each of Canada and Mexico and 10 in the U.S.

BMO Field, World Cup
Toronto’s BMO Field would almost certainly need to be expanded in order to meet World Cup standards. Photo by Abazz via Wikimedia Commons.

Bid officials are keen on the idea of having three games back-to-back-to-back on the opening day of the tournament, using BMO Field, Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

That could mean more than 220,000 spectators on Day 1, given the bid group’s stadium capacity estimates include expanding BMO Field to 45,500.

Will Canada get automatic entry as co-host?

There has been no formal announcement yet that the three co-host countries will skip qualifying as has been the tournament custom. But all signs point to yes, especially with the field expanded to 48 teams from 32. Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s bid director, says that decision will be made by FIFA _ possibly not until 2021 or 2022. CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a Canadian who was a key player in the successful bid, should help ease the way for the co-hosts.

CONCACAF got 3 1/2 entries for the 2018 World Cup, which has 32 entries. The top three teams in the final round of qualifying — Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama — booked their ticket to Russia while No. 4 Honduras lost an inter-confederation playoff with Australia 3-1 on aggregate.

How many games will Canada get?

The current blueprint calls for Canada and Mexico to get 10 each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarter-finals on. U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro defended that split, calling it “the most optimal mix of cities and matches.” But FIFA could well make changes to that breakdown.

When will the tournament schedule be out?

The full field likely won’t be known until the last week of November 2025 with the final draw expected to follow in the first week of December 2025. A match schedule, with venues but not teams, likely will be out earlier _ perhaps late 2024 or 2025.

What surface will the tournament be played on?

Montopoli said it will be 100 per cent natural grass, meaning temporary surfaces will have to be installed in stadiums with artificial turf. Eleven of the 23 stadiums under consideration — including Commonwealth Stadium and Olympic Stadium — have artificial surfaces. A number of training sites would also have to go to a grass surface.

The 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf, prompting a human rights complaint from a group of elite female players. FIFA refused to budge and the complaint was eventually dropped, but not before the lawyer for the women’s players slammed FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.

How will the tournament work?

FIFA says the 48 teams will be split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage. The competition will feature 80 games. FIFA says the new format will last 32 days, the same as the current 32-team tournament. There will be no reduction in rest days. And there will be a maximum of seven games for the teams reaching the final, the same as the current format.

Will the three co-hosts stage a Confederations Cup in advance of the World Cup?

FIFA is looking at changes to the Confederations Cup, a tournament that has traditionally served as a precursor to the World Cup. So that’s up in the air.

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