DESTINATION NORTH AMERICA

The 2026 World Cup will be the first one to feature 48 teams, as well as, be contested in three different countries. While the expansion of the World Cup is definitely exciting, is it beneficial to the tournament? Fans across North America certainly seem to think so and the continent is certainly prepared to open its doors to the world.
Canada, Mexico and the United States of America are preparing to host the most prestigious sporting event on the planet in four years’ time and fans of the beautiful game couldn’t be more thrilled. While the games being split across three different countries will mean fewer individual games for each nation, it also allows them all the opportunity to showcase what they can offer while ensuring they won’t need to spend an absurd amount of money to make it happen – unlike in 2014 when Brazil spent far more than its citizens were comfortable with to appease FIFA and guarantee the organisation all the glitz and glamour it had desired. The three nations in 2026 will not be making the same mistake.
All the stadiums being used during the 2026 World Cup have already been built and are currently being used. Whether it be for the National Football League, Major League Soccer or Liga MX, all 16 stadiums are already part of the sporting landscape and will continue to be used long after the World Cup is over. While some will need to be expanded and upgraded, it will not cost anywhere near as much as it would to build new stadiums and will benefit the cities they are located in for years to come.
The argument could be made that playing in three different countries is too much and will force teams to travel more than they should – especially considering how large the three countries are. However, with the World Cup expanding to 48 teams it is the perfect time to grow the competition and take it to North America.
The continent hasn’t hosted the World Cup since 1994, when Brazil lifted the trophy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Mexico was the first country in North America to hold the event in 1970 and became the first nation to ever host the competition twice when they welcomed the world in 1986. In 2026, they become the first country to ever host for the third time.
“This a beautiful moment for our country, especially to host a World Cup for the third time,” said Mexican winger Hirving Lozano. 
While Mexicans will be fully aware of what to expect, it will be the first time in history that Canada will participate in hosting the tournament.
It’s amazing that the World Cup is finally coming to Canada. It’s something as kids it was hard to even dream of,” said Canadian midfielder Jonathon Osorio when the host cities were named. “This will be huge for the growth of the game, similar to what the 1994 FIFA World Cup did for soccer in the US. It will grow the sport and unite the people. Canada is full of immigrants, like my parents; immigrants who also love football.”
Many have been quick to criticise the idea of expanding to 48 countries, suggesting that it will water down the competition, but when you look at the number of talented teams across the world that didn’t qualify for the tournament in 2022 it is not difficult to imagine 16 more sides being added. Euro 2020 champions Italy will be missing out on their second consecutive World Cup, while Chile also failed to qualify for the event despite winning the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.
Allowing more teams into the tournament just means more fans and countries get to participate in the action, which is really what the World Cup is all about. Of course, FIFA will benefit financially from having more teams, but fans will also benefit as well and that should ultimately be what matters most.
It may no longer be realistic to hold the World Cup in one nation anymore given the expanded format, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Allowing countries that may have never had the opportunity to host the event if they had done it alone only means that the beautiful game is being exposed to more people in more nations.
The 2026 World Cup will also be an opportunity for all three countries to show just how much quality they have on the pitch – not just the beauty they possess off it. Canada qualified for the World Cup in 2022 for the first time since 1986 as a result of the abundance of young talent that they have managed to develop and those players will quite possibly be at the peak of their powers in four years’ time, while the United States and Mexico continue to be a force in the global game. With the future looking so bright, there will be high expectations for all three countries heading into the 2026 tournament.
“We’re going into this World Cup with all the confidence in the world and hopefully come 2026 we’re going to have a really strong team,” said American winger Christian Pulisic.
It may have been rare to see North American players plying their trade at top sides in Europe at one point in time, but that is simply not the case anymore. With the aforementioned Pulisic playing for Chelsea in England and Alphonso Davies winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich, seeing top players from this side of the pond making a difference in Europe has become quite common.
Major League Soccer never would have been created had it not been for the United States being awarded the 1994 World Cup and the legacy that tournament has left is still felt to this day. One can only imagine that having the 2026 World Cup played across Canada, Mexico and the United States will not only benefit all three nations but could make a real impact for nations across the globe.

SIDEBARS

Every two years?

It is one of football’s biggest currently raging debates – should the World Cup be played every two years instead of four? Marco D’Onofrio looks at the arguments being made on both sides

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about whether playing the World Cup every four years is really a good idea, a case originally put forward by former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. There are some in FIFA that would like to see the world’s most prestigious international tournament played every two years instead and they are even running a feasibility study into the proposal. While this may sound like an exciting prospect at first, when one really breaks down the concept it isn’t a very smart decision. 

The World Cup generates a buzz around the globe unlike any other competition, but that is because when it does come around fans have been craving for it. If the World Cup was played every two years, it wouldn’t bring about the same feelings because fans wouldn’t get the opportunity to miss it. There is no doubt that it would certainly bring in more revenue for FIFA, but is that what matters most when it comes to the World Cup? Not for the fans it isn’t. 

“It’s a special thing because it’s every four years,” said French superstar Kylian Mbappé when asked his opinion on the matter. “If you have it every two years it can start to be normal to play a World Cup. I want to say it’s not normal. It’s something amazing that you get to play maybe once or twice in your life.”

Playing the tournament every two years would also mean the end of continental competitions like the European Championships or Copa America as well which would be an even bigger shame. There is nothing like watching two major rivals from the same region do battle for a major trophy and that would get lost if the World Cup was no longer every four years.

While it’s fun to imagine what a World Cup every two years would look like, the reality isn’t all that glamourous – even for the most hardcore of fans.

The split

A 48-team World Cup will mean major changes to the qualification process. Marco D’Onofrio looks at how World Cup spots will be divided by each region in 2026.   
With the World Cup expanding to a total of 48 teams in 2026, there will be a much better chance for countries around the world to qualify for the tournament. Each region will benefit from having more spots available to qualify for as the 16 additional spots will be divided up by the six different regions. In 2026, the Asian Football Confederation will be provided with eight guaranteed spots, while the Confederation of African Football will be provided with nine. CONCACAF and CONMEBOL will each be given six guaranteed spots, while UEFA will get 16 and for the first time ever, the Oceania Football Confederation will get one. However, every region except UEFA will have the opportunity to qualify even more countries as they are provided with one third of a spot that will be determined via an intercontinental playoff. CONCACAF will be provided with two of these berths as they have three hosts countries in 2026 taking up the additional three spots they have been given in 2026.
To make things even more complicated, during the playoff two of the teams will be seeded based on the FIFA rankings and the seeded teams will play directly for a berth against the winners of the first two knockout games involving the four unseeded teams. These playoffs are likely to take place in November 2025, in one or more of the host countries.
While the system still isn’t perfect, it is much more equitable than we have seen in the past. UEFA will have the most representatives as it always has, but it is CONMEBOL that has the largest percentage of its nations in the tournament as 60% of the confederation is guaranteed a spot, while that number could grow a further 3.3% based on playoff results.  

It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out come 2026, but fans should be excited that more global stars and nations will be able to participate in the world’s biggest competition. 

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