World Cup 2026: A primer on the ex­panded tour­na­ment

The Western Star - - SPORTS - BY 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.

A look at some ques­tions sur­round­ing the men’s soc­cer show­case:

Is Canada guar­an­teed three host cities?

Ed­mon­ton (Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium), Mon­treal (Olympic Sta­dium) and Toronto (BMO Field) were 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 backto-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 au­to­matic 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, and U.S. Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Car­los Cordeiro said the is­sue of au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion is a FIFA de­ci­sion which will come later.

But FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino said CONCACAF, the gov­ern­ing body of soc­cer for North and Cen­treal Amer­ica and the Caribbean, will have seven slots in 2026, and it will be up to CONCACAF to de­cide how to de­ploy them.

CONCACAF got 3 1/2 en­tries 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 in­ter-con­fed­er­a­tion play­off with Aus­tralia 3-1 on ag­gre­gate.

With CONCACAF pres­i­dent Vic­tor Mon­tagliani a Cana­dian who was a key player in the suc­cess­ful bid and FIFA look­ing to sell as many tick­ets as pos­si­ble, look for the host coun­tries to be front and cen­tre.

How many games will Canada get?

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

When will the tour­na­ment sched­ule be out?

The full field likely won’t be known un­til the last week of Novem­ber 2025 with the fi­nal draw ex­pected to fol­low 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 the tour­na­ment 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. A num­ber of train­ing sites would also have to go to a grass sur­face.

The 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on ar­ti­fi­cial turf, prompt­ing a hu­man rights com­plaint from a group of elite fe­male play­ers. FIFA re­fused to budge and the com­plaint was even­tu­ally dropped, but not be­fore the lawyer for the women’s play­ers slammed FIFA and the Cana­dian Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion.

How will the tour­na­ment work?

FIFA says the 48 teams will be split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then ad­vance to a 32-team knock­out stage. The com­pe­ti­tion will fea­ture 80 games. FIFA says the new for­mat will last 32 days, the same as the cur­rent 32-team tour­na­ment. There will be no re­duc­tion in rest days. And there will be a max­i­mum of seven games for the teams reach­ing the fi­nal, the same as the cur­rent for­mat.

CP PHOTO

Bill Man­ning, Toronto FC pres­i­dent, dis­cusses the suc­cess­ful joint North Amer­i­can bid by Canada, the U.S. and Mex­ico to host the 2026 World Cup at a press con­fer­ence in Toronto on Wed­nes­day.

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