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How will this work? Format, cities, rating explained

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After the host cities for the 2026 World Cup were announced, the next question has been: how will all this work?

Don’t worry, we have you.

[ MORE: Which cities will host 2026 World Cup games? ]

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With the tournament expanded to 48 teams for the first time in history for the 2026 World Cup, the current format of the group stage and knockout stage will change. With 11 cities in the US, three in Mexico, and two in Canada hosting games, there are a lot of logistics to work out between now and June 2026, when it all kicks off.

Below you will find everything you need to know about the World Cup format, qualifying and how it will all work.


World Cup 2026 Format

Well, here’s how it all works out as the Men’s World Cup goes from a 32-team tournament to a 48-team competition.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 odds: Favorites, underdogs, group stage winners ]

  • The 48 qualified teams will be divided into 16 groups of three
  • Each team will play two group stage matches (one less than three)
  • Those classified in 1st and 2nd place of each group to the round of 32
  • An extra elimination round will be created, the Round of 32
  • The knockout round will continue from the round of 16 to the previous World Cup.

Qualification for the World Cup 2026

It is widely expected that as host nations the US, Canada and Mexico will automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup. But that has not been confirmed.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 rankings: Who are the favorites? ]

FIFA has confirmed how the new qualification process will work, as the following formula was voted on at its 67th FIFA Congress:

UEFA = 16 teams will qualify
CAF = 9.5 (.5 represents a playoff team)
CFA = 8.5
CONMBEOL = 6.5
CONCACAF = 6.5
COF = 1.5

A playoff tournament involving six teams in the US, Mexico and Canada will be held to decide the final two teams that make it to the World Cup. The two playoff teams with the highest FIFA world rankings will be seeded, while the other four will play a semi-final round to decide who makes it to the final to play the two seeded teams.

One playoff team will come from each of the confederations (except UEFA) and there will be an additional team from the CONCACAF region to make up the six teams.


How will FIFA base the group stage, the knockout rounds?

This is something that will be really intriguing for years to come as FIFA plans out the logistics of where the group stage games will take place, the knockout rounds and where the national teams will be based.

We know one thing: FIFA will play 80 games in the tournament with 60 games in the US, 10 in Mexico and 10 in Canada. That has already been confirmed.

Throughout all my conversations with those involved in the host city bid process over the past few years, one thing has stood out: FIFA wants regional city groups so that games can be organized in different cities but with very little travel. for fans and teams.

With that in mind, putting a World Cup group into paired cities would work really well and then keeping those teams in a certain region of the US, Mexico and Canada for the early rounds of qualifying would also make sense.

For example: Groups A and B will be based on the West Coast for the Group Stage, plus the Round of 32 and Round of 16, while Groups C and D will be based on the East Coast for the Group Stage, plus the round of 32 and the round of 16. Round of 16, and so on.

As for how all of that will play out, I tried to predict which cities might pair up to host games in 2026:

Vancouver+Seattle
San Francisco + Los Angeles
Mexico City + Guadalajara
Monterey + Houston
Kansas City + Dallas
Atlanta + Miami
Boston + Toronto
Philadelphia + New York


Which city will host the 2026 World Cup final?

It seems that three locations in the US are the favorites: Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City/NJ.

The latter seems to be the favorite as things stand, especially as FIFA chose New York to reveal the 16 host cities for the 2026 World Cup.

Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca has hosted two World Cup finals in the past, and despite its iconic status in world soccer, the final is expected to be held in the United States.

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