That concludes the smallest World Cup in living memory – now we can all prepare for the biggest.
Doha’s towering skyscrapers, sparkling stadiums and gleaming subway stations are now football’s past.
For all the talk of new borders and ‘bringing people together’, the truth is that Fifa is absolutely delighted to say goodbye to Qatar, the controversy and criticism.
Even before the bags were packed, thoughts turned to the next incarnation of the event that is uniting the world in passion.
A World Cup in three countries, not in one city. At 16 venues, split across four time zones and thousands of miles – rather than the distance between Selhurst Park and Kenilworth Road.
With 48 teams, as opposed to the 32 that have been the norm since 1998. More from Africa, Asia and America. Even a guaranteed slot for Oceania for the first time.
And almost certainly a record of 104 MATCHES and 33 days.
There will be 12 groups of four, but the real problems lie in the next phase.
The easiest would be if the top two finishers of each group plus the eight best third-place teams reached the last 32 and eight games instead of seven to win.
However, there is some argument that the top eight group winners should automatically go into the last 16, with the other four group winners plus the eight runners-up playing off to join them.
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That would mean 96 games instead of 104 – still by far the biggest World Cup with just 64 games in Qatar – but it also creates problems.
Teams drawn in a ‘soft’ opening group that easily won all three games would be rewarded for the luck of the draw, while it would also change the concept that all teams have to play the same number of games to win the greatest winning a prize in soccer.
Another option is to split the 24 competing teams in half, with the “winner” of the two sections meeting in the final.
That would mean the top two would be joined in their half by the top four third-place teams — makes more sense if the tournament is split into “East” and “West” geographical sections — even if they’re not in the top eight third-place finishers total.
But the other factor that will be very different is the number of games per day in the group stage.
Qatar was shortened to 29 days, with four games a day in the opening stages.
But Europe’s big clubs will put enormous pressure on Fifa to prevent an expanding tournament from lasting longer than a maximum of 33 days.
The solution is obvious – up to six games a day in the opening round, although that’s more possible in 2026 than any other potential future venue.
East Coast cities like New York and Boston are five hours behind the UK, while Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are another three hours behind.
One scenario would be that the first game of the day might start at 12pm local time in Toronto which is 5pm in the UK.
Games could then start every 2½ hours in Atlanta, Houston, Mexico City and Vancouver, with the last game starting at 9:30 p.m. local time in San Francisco – 5:30 a.m. home. But there is still a problem for Fifa.
Broadcasters for Europe’s big nations will be demanding earlier kick-off times and the first three games of the day – but you can’t all have Spain, Germany, England, France, Portugal and Holland in the same half of the draw.
Likewise, South American fans would later prefer West Coast games.
Fifa tried to justify Qatar’s choice by pointing to the limited distances teams had to cover and pushing for green credentials, sustainability and carbon offsetting.
In 2026, driving between many cities will not be feasible. Everyone has to cross Canada, Mexico and the United States by plane.
They’re trying to catch a train from New York to Boston, let alone Seattle.
But Gianni Infantino and Co have to clarify that. It will not be easy.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6951969/how-world-cup-2026-will-work/ Here’s how the 2026 World Cup works, with 104 games, six games a day and 48 teams in the biggest tournament of all time