FIFA not set on 3-team groups for ’26 World Cup

Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s chief of global football, said a final decision has not yet been made on the format for the 2026 World Cup, which is being hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The 2022 World Cup saw great drama as the group stage climaxed with all four teams played simultaneously, but with the final tournament being expanded from 32 to 48 teams, FIFA has to find a new system.

It’s almost six years since the FIFA council voted to increase the size of the World Cup in January 2017 and approved a format which would see the 48 teams divided into 16 groups of three teams — with the top two going through to a round of 32.

– World Cup 2022: News and features | Schedule | Bracket

But this would mean the two teams in the final group fixture could play out a specific result to send both teams through at the expense of the team not playing, and this has led to a rethink. FIFA has even raised the prospect of putting a penalty shootout on the end of every group stage drawn game, but even that wouldn’t overcome teams playing out a specific scoreline that suited both.

On Sunday, Wenger told a news conference for the FIFA technical study group that three options were under consideration. As well as the three-team option, another suggestion is that there would be 12 groups of four teams, with the best third-placed teams advancing with the top two. A third option is to split the World Cup into two separate halves of 24, each featuring six groups of four teams. The winner of each half would meet in the final.

“This is not decided,” Wenger said. “but it will be 16 groups of three, 12 groups of four, or two sides of six groups of four — like you organise two 24 teams.

“I will not be able to decide that, it will be decided by the FIFA [council], and I think it will be done in the next year.”

The cities officially selected to host World Cup matches in the U.S. are: New York/New Jersey (MetLife Stadium); Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium); Dallas (AT&T Stadium); San Francisco Bay Area (Levi’s Stadium); Miami (Hard Rock Stadium); Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium); Seattle (Lumen Field); Houston (NRG Stadium); Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field); Kansas City, Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium); and Boston/Foxborough (Gillette Stadium).

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