What can fans expect from the 2026 World Cup in North America and who might win the competition?

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The 2022 soccer World Cup was unique for many different reasons but none more so than the fact that all the stadiums were within an hour’s drive from each other. In fact, the furthest stadium from the capital Doha was just 28 miles away. It was, without doubt, the easiest World Cup to attend once you had arrived on the ground in the Middle East. Now, contrast that with the upcoming World Cup in 2026 which will be hosted in America, Canada, and Mexico, where the longest distance between stadiums – the BMO Field stadium in Toronto and the Rose Bowl in California – is over 2500 miles of driving. Incredibly, you would have to drive for 40 hours on Interstate 80, which of course passes through Iowa, if you wished to attend a game at both stadiums.

You can, all of a sudden, see why the mind-blowing geographical vastness of this particular World Cup is set to make it the most iconic in the history of the event. But, apart from the sprawling landscape that the 23rd edition of the FIFA World Cup will be staged on, what else can fans expect from the summer showpiece in 2026?

The best of North America

There was a definite hesitation among a selection of soccer fans around the world with regard to being unsure of what to expect during their time in Qatar. As it turned out, the 2022 World Cup in the Middle East was a huge success but the question marks in the build-up to the tournament overshadowed the usual excitement that accompanies the greatest soccer event on the planet. This wasn’t only down to a change of cultures but predominantly the unprecedented decision that led to a World Cup being played during the northern hemisphere’s winter. Usually, the event is held in the summer which adds to the carnival atmosphere given that people are on holiday and enjoying the best weather of the year. It was this unknown of a World Cup during the icy chills of winter that left fans understandably feeling uncertain of what was to come.

In short, the same feeling of caution won’t be evident during the lead-up to the 2026 World Cup as supporters know exactly what to expect when they touch down in North America. Above all, this is the case due to the fact that the US hosted the World Cup in 1994 and put on a show that 29 years later on, is still remembered as of the most efficiently run tournaments since the first event was held in Uruguay in 1930. Essentially, this is why there is already a clamor for tickets and accommodation with fans desperate not to miss out given the States’ exemplary hosting record.

There is, however, good reason to believe that the 2026 World Cup will outdo the 1994 edition now that Canada and Mexico have been awarded hosting rights alongside the US. Put another way, the world isn’t only going to see the best of the United States, but also North America in general with Canada and Mexico certain to roll out the red carpet for fans as well as put on a dazzling display for those supporters watching from afar. Yes, this will be a celebration of all things North American and with 16 host cities chosen by FIFA across three countries, millions will be treated to the unmatched beauty and hospitality of this breathtaking continent.

The unprecedented format changes

The 2026 World Cup will be the first time that 48 teams compete in the event, which is an increase of 16 from the usual number of 32. With that said, FIFA are yet to officially announce if there will be 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four despite declaring that they would implement the former concept before the World Cup in Qatar. However, owing to the success of the format in the Middle East where four teams played in a group, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has since hinted at a U-turn on their previous thinking by suggesting that the organizers will stick to the tried and tested methods.

Irrespective of the group stage logistics, with a 50 percent increase in competing teams, a considerable amount of new nations who haven’t been regulars at the World Cup will finally get the chance to compete for soccer’s greatest prize. In particular, Africa will go from having five World Cup qualifying slots to potentially ten. All things considered, this is an increase that is long overdue and could give the sides in the continent the springboard to finally win a maiden World Cup. Furthermore, there will be a genuine belief in Africa that their time is near after Morocco was able to make history by qualifying for the semi-finals in 2022, a run that surely galvanized soccer in Africa.

Again, this brewing subplot has the potential to make the 2026 World Cup the most remarkable yet as nations in Africa put it all on the line for that first trophy.

Who are the main contenders?

As things stand, it’s worth pointing out that the bookmakers see it somewhat differently having priced Morocco, the highest-ranked African team, at long odds of +6600. Instead, the current frontrunners three years out are beaten finalists at the 2022 World Cup France at +450, while Brazil are at +600, and England are at +800. It goes without saying but with over three years still to go before kick-off at the 2026 World Cup, a lot can and will change. For fans who want to keep up to date with the latest prices in the lead-up, Oddschecker, a site that provides the very latest soccer odds, will make the process of trying to pick a legal sportsbook as easy as possible by listing all the best signing on offers and bonuses that can be used to back a team at the World Cup. This way, fans can keep up to date with the fluctuation in odds as teams go through all the typical highs and lows in the lead-up to a World Cup.

What legacy could the 2026 World Cup leave in North America?

It’s hard to say for certain what legacy the tournament will leave given that World Cups are normally remembered for the breathtaking moments on the field of play that bring the globe to a collective standstill. Indeed, think back to 1994 and you’ll instantly recall a crestfallen Roberto Baggio after his penalty miss that handed the World Cup to Brazil, or perhaps it’s Germany 2006 when Zinedine Zidane was sent off in the final following an inexplicable headbutt on Marco Materazzi. What about 2010 in South Africa when Frank Lampard scored a perfectly legitimate goal only for the officials not to see the ball cross the line?

The wider point here is that the 2026 World Cup will in its own time, deliver jaw-dropping moments that no one could have ever imagined possible.

As for a legacy off the field, that is easier to predict given that World Cups almost always stir up a revolution at the grassroots level. Essentially, this could be the event that takes interest in American soccer to the next level, especially if the Stars and Stripes are able to progress deep into the tournament. Should that happen then soccer has the ability to rival American football and basketball for the country’s attention. The same spike in interest will of course also be witnessed in Mexico and Canada, even if they are only hosting ten games each as opposed to America’s lion’s share of 60.

Indeed, all three nations stand to gain an incalculable amount from welcoming the world to their shores in 2026 when potentially the greatest World Cup of all time gets underway.