How will this work? Shape, cities and qualification explained

After announcing the excitement of the 2026 World Cup host cities, the next question was: How will all of this work?

Don’t worry, we got you.

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

With the tournament expanded to include 48 teams for the first time in history for the 2026 World Cup, the current group stage format and the shape of the knockout stage will change. With 11 cities in the US, three in Mexico and two in Canada hosting the Games, there’s plenty of logistics to figure out between now and June 2026 when it all begins.

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


Coordination of the World Cup 2026

Well, here’s how it all works as the Men’s World Cup transforms 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 (less than one out of three matches).
  • The first and second places in each group to the round of 32
  • An additional knockout round will be generated, round of 32
  • The knockout round of the Round of 16 of the previous World Cup Finals will then continue

2026 World Cup Qualifiers

It is widely expected that the United States, Canada and Mexico, as the host countries, 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, with the following formula being voted on at the 67th FIFA Congress:

UEFA = 16 teams will qualify
CAF = 9.5 (.5 represents one playoff team)
AFC = 8.5
Konbiul = 6.5
CONCACAF = 6.5
OFC = 1.5

A six-team playoff will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada to determine the last two teams to reach the World Cup. The two teams with the highest FIFA world rankings will be seeded, while the other four will play a semi-final to determine who makes the final to play with the two ranked teams.

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


How will FIFA establish the group stage and knockout rounds?

This is something that will be really interesting in the coming years as FIFA plans the logistics of where the group stage matches, the knockout rounds and where the national teams will be based.

We know one thing: FIFA will host 80 matches in the tournament with 60 in the United States, 10 in Mexico and 10 in Canada. It has already been confirmed.

In all of my conversations with participants in the host city bidding process in recent years, one thing has stood out: FIFA wants regional clusters of cities so the games can be hosted in different cities but with little travel for fans and teams.

With that in mind, putting the World Cup group into two-cities would be a very good thing and then keeping those teams in a certain region of the US, Mexico and Canada in the first few knockout rounds would also make sense.

For example: Groups A and B will be based on the West Coast for the group stage, in addition to the Round of 32 and Round of 16, while Groups C and D will be based on the East Coast for the group stage, in addition to the Round of 32 and Round of 16, and so on.

As for how it all works, I’ve tried to predict which cities could be paired together 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


What city will host the 2026 World Cup Final?

Three locations across the United States seem to be the favorites: Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York/NJ.

The latter seems to be a favourite as well, especially since FIFA chose New York City to reveal the 16 host cities for the 2026 World Cup.

The Azteca Stadium in Mexico City has hosted the World Cup finals twice in the past and despite its privileged position in world football, we expect the final to take place in the United States.

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