Hosts likely won’t need to qual­ify for 48-team tour­na­ment

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - NEIL DAVIDSON

The 2026 World Cup has been awarded to Canada, the U.S. and Mex­ico. FIFA, the world gov­ern­ing body of soc­cer, now takes over the tour­na­ment, work­ing with the three coun­tries.

Here are some ques­tions sur­round­ing the show­case:

IS CANADA GUAR­AN­TEED THREE HOST CITIES?

Ed­mon­ton (Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium), Mon­treal (Olympic Sta­dium) and Toronto (BMO Field) are among the 23 can­di­date host cities in the North Amer­i­can bid book with FIFA ex­pected to select up to 16 cities. Cana­dian of­fi­cials say they will push to keep all three of their host cities. The bid group has been work­ing un­der the premise of three cities in each of Canada and Mex­ico and 10 in the U.S.

Bid of­fi­cials are keen on the idea of hav­ing three games back-to-back-to-back on the open­ing day of the tour­na­ment, us­ing BMO Field, Mex­ico City ’s Azteca Sta­dium and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

That could mean more than 220,000 spec­ta­tors on Day 1, given the bid group’s sta­dium ca­pac­ity es­ti­mates in­clude ex­pand­ing BMO Field to 45,500.

WILL CANADA GET EN­TRY AS CO-HOST?

There has been no for­mal an­nounce­ment yet that the three co-host coun­tries will skip qual­i­fy­ing, as has been the tour­na­ment cus­tom. But all signs point to yes, es­pe­cially with the field ex­panded to 48 teams from 32. Peter Mon­topoli, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Cana­dian Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion and Canada’s bid direc­tor, says that de­ci­sion will be made by FIFA, pos­si­bly not un­til 2021 or 2022. CONCACAF pres­i­dent Vic­tor Mon­tagliani, a Cana­dian who was a key player in the suc­cess­ful bid, should help ease the way for the co-hosts.

CONCACAF got 31/2 en­tries (three direct slots and one in­ter-con­fed­er­a­tion play­off slot) for the 2018 World Cup, which has 32 en­tries. The top three teams in the fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing — Mex­ico, Costa Rica and Panama — booked their ticket to Rus­sia while No. 4 Hon­duras lost an in­ter­con­fed­er­a­tion play­off with Aus­tralia.

HOW MANY GAMES WILL CANADA GET?

The blue­print calls for Canada and Mex­ico to get 10 each with the U.S. host­ing 60, in­clud­ing all games from the quar­ter­fi­nals on. U.S. Soc­cer pres­i­dent Car­los Cordeiro de­fended that split, call­ing it “the most op­ti­mal mix of cities and matches.” But FIFA could well make changes to that break­down.

WHEN WILL THE SCHED­ULE BE OUT?

The full field likely won’t be known un­til the last week of Novem­ber 2025 with the fi­nal draw ex­pected in the first week of De­cem­ber 2025. A match sched­ule, with venues but not teams, likely will be out ear­lier, per­haps late 2024 or 2025.

WHAT SUR­FACE WILL IT BE PLAYED ON?

Mon­topoli said it will be 100 per cent nat­u­ral grass, mean­ing tem­po­rary sur­faces will have to be in­stalled in sta­di­ums with ar­ti­fi­cial turf. Eleven of the 23 sta­di­ums un­der con­sid­er­a­tion — in­clud­ing Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium and Olympic Sta­dium — have ar­ti­fi­cial sur­faces. Train­ing sites would also have to go to a grass sur­face.

WILL CO-HOSTS STAGE A CON­FED­ER­A­TIONS CUP?

FIFA is look­ing at changes to the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup, a tour­na­ment that serves as a pre­cur­sor to the World Cup. So that’s up in the air.

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