Fifa to ‘revisit’ 2026 World Cup plans after group stage drama in Qatar

South Korea scraped through in the final minutes while each of Spain, Germany and Costa Rica were in an ever-changing late battle to progress from Group E

Karl Matchett
Friday 16 December 2022 11:38 GMT
Cafu, Davids, Del Piero play Legends match wirth Infantino as Ref

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has confirmed that plans for the format of the World Cup in 2026 are to be reconsidered, following the excitement and drama provided at the end of the group stage this time around.

Four years from now, the tournament will be jointly held by Canada, Mexico and the United States, but an expansion to a 48-nation competition means a switch in the construct is required.

There have been several proposals for that altered system, including the option of 16 groups of three teams with the top two progressing to a round of 32 knockout.

However, that is now not set to be on the agenda, with Infantino admitting that the final-day permutations on show in Qatar during the World Cup 2022 has enforced a new round of discussions.

While this time around the four-team group stage provided plenty of late twists and turns, the issue with a three-team group is that the final fixture would take place alone and always with both nations knowing exactly what was required of them to progress, with no jeopardy on them which they couldn’t affect elsewhere.

To remove the possibility of those games being played out in drab fashion - or even in a more nefarious manner - Infantino says Fifa “have to revisit or rediscuss the format”, to ensure both sporting integrity and also maximum entertainment value.

Three-team groups are not the only danger when it comes to a restructuring of the initial phase of the competition.

One of the most infamous matches in World Cup history came in 1982, where four-team group phases were in effect but the last fixtures were not played simultaneously.

That led to West Germany and Austria knowing that a win for the former would see them both through, at the expense of Algeria - and after an early goal there was little notable effort from either side to alter the scoreline.

Other possibilities suggested for 2026 over the past few years include 12 groups of four teams and holding a first-round knockout game as an effective playoff between 32 nations, with the 16 winners joining the other eight - presumable the hosts and top seeds - in a 24-team group phase.

Speaking more generally on the success of the 2022 edition, Infantino continued: “For me the World Cup has been a real incredible success, on all fronts. The main ones [are] the fans, bringing people together, meeting the Arab world, is very important for the future of all of us. But also when it comes to the matches.”

Separately, Infantino also announced an expanded Club World Cup from 2025, which will feature 32 teams.

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