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- The extended 48-team World Cup is set to be staged in three countries
- USA, Canada and Mexico are on pole to get the World Cup in 2026
- Penalty shootouts may also be introduced to decide group-stage matches
- The format will be 16 groups of three with the top two progressing
The extended 48-country World Cup in 2026 is set to be staged in three countries for the first time, with the USA sharing the tournament with Canada and Mexico.
The FIFA council made a unanimous decision on Tuesday to increase the tournament by 16 countries, while a three-way hosting was described as a 'definite possibility'.
Penalty shootouts may also be introduced to decide group-stage matches and avoid teams playing out a draw in the final round of games to ensure both progress. The format will be 16 groups of three with the top two progressing to a knockout round of 32.
The USA are favourites to be awarded the 2026 event, but could co-host it with Canada and Mexico while still staging the lion's share of the 80 games.
Canadian Victor Montagliani, the CONCACAF president, said he hoped 'football would trump politics — no pun intended' in the USA being happy to share the global event with Mexico despite the incoming US President's desire to build a giant wall on the border.
Victor Montagliani (right), the CONCACAF president, hopes 'football would trump politics'
Montagliani said: 'A USA-Canada-Mexico World Cup in 2026 is definitely a possibility because the rules now allow for it and it is an opportunity for CONCACAF.
'In some regions co-hosting not only makes more sense but is the only sense. It's not just the 48 teams, it's the training facilities and all the other infrastructure that's required.'
Germany have been the one country to oppose the expansion that allows FIFA president Gianni Infantino to deliver on his election pledge. The FA, whose representative David Gill did not attend because of commitments in Australia, were resigned to it, knowing it had the support of a majority of the FIFA council.
The FA's representative, David Gill (left), did not attend because of commitments in Australia
WORLD CUP HOSTS
WORLD CUP HOSTS
2002 Japan & South Korea
2010 South Africa
Montagliani added: 'This decision was done on the facts and figures, not a wink and a nod. Maybe the time has come when we don't do things on winks and nods any more. There was no opposition — period.'
Infantino said: 'Many countries will be very happy. We need to shape the World Cup for the 21st century. There is more to football now than Europe and South America.'
No promises had been made about allocations of places, although every confederation will receive an increase.
A UEFA statement said: 'It was clear all the other confederations were overwhelmingly in favour of expanding the World Cup. As a result, UEFA decided to join in supporting the new format.'
HOW THE NEW FORMAT WILL WORK AT THE 2026 WORLD CUP
Q: How will the group stages look?
Every team play twice in their three-team group. The top two advance to the last 32, when the knockout stages begin. Group matches ending in a draw could be decided by a penalty shootout to stop any final-game collusion.
Q: What other impact will 48 teams have?
More teams means more games. Eighty matches will take place, as opposed to the current 64. However, if a team reach the final, they will have played a total of seven matches, the same total as the current format.
Q: Where will the 2026 World Cup be held?
Not known yet, but the United States are expected to make an offer. They could be sole bidders, or come forward with a joint proposal alongside Mexico or Canada.
Q: Why did FIFA want the World Cup expanded?
Infantino vowed to increase the number of teams when he was campaigning to replace Sepp Blatter. His proposal appealed to a lot of the 211 FIFA members, many of whom do not normally qualify. Confederations outside Europe have felt disadvantaged for many years.
Q: When was the last time the World Cup was revamped?
Its inception in 1930 saw 13 countries take part. Only 16 qualified for the finals until the 1982 edition in Spain, where 24 teams competed. The current format of 32 teams has been used since the 1998 tournament in France.
Q: Who would get the extra 16 World Cup spots?
Yet to be confirmed.
One proposal could see Europe's allocation rising from 13 to 16 teams with Africa the biggest beneficiaries gaining an extra four places to nine. Asia would get 8.5 places, North and South America 6.5 each and Oceania 1.5. The half-places represent play-off spots, with the lowest qualifiers from Asia, North America, South America and Oceania battling for two places.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: 'Confederations all have wishlists in terms of how many slots they would like. Discussions are going to take place but nothing is decided.'