FIFA always seems to have a flair for the dramatic. Recent decisions surrounding the tournament continue that tradition. Both the 2026 and 2030 World Cups will see significant changes. Key changes include:
Spreading it around
Likely stinging from the criticism of Qatar hosting the tournament, FIFA returned to a multi-country format. Qatar was problematic because of its tiny size, moving the tournament to late fall rather than summer, underhanded tactics for winning the nomination, and perhaps even the conservative norms making it difficult to drink alcohol (despite Budweiser being a major sponsor) and strike the inclusive cultural note that FIFA strives for. Japan and Korea hosted the 2002 tournament, but the multi-country format again ceased until North America in 2026.
- 2026: The 2026 World Cup will be in North America, with matches in Canada, Mexico and the United States. This tournament is the first time it returns to North America since the U.S. hosted it in 1994.
- 2030: The initial matches will occur in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Uruguay hosted the initial tournament, and the host country won the final match in 1930. The early match in that country will honor the centennial. The tournament will then move to Spain, Portugal and Morocco for the remaining games. This multi-country-host effort further reflects FIFA’s drive to no longer rely on one country.
The 2026 tournament will last around 40 days. The 2030 tournament will begin June 8th or 9th and conclude July 21. The 45-day total is unprecedented. The 2022 tournament took 28 days from the opener to the final match, and the 2018 version was 31 days.
More teams added
More teams will be added to 2026. After expanding from 24 to 32 countries in 1998, the World Cup now expands by 16 countries for a total of 48 in 2026 (this was a decision made in 2017). The new format features 12 groups of four teams playing three games in the group play segment. The top two teams from each group will advance, as will eight additional third-place teams with the best records. Thirty-two teams will proceed to the knock-out rounds. The teams need to win eight games instead of seven to reach the final four. As usual, the losers of the final four bracket play for third place.
More World Cup soccer
The upshot of these changes is more soccer for football-crazed fans worldwide. No one is complaining about that. FIFA being FIFA, there will be new storylines and drama leading up to these tournaments. Watch this space.