‘Jumbo World Cup 2026’, boon for non-European countries, but crowded it will be
On Sunday, July 19, 2026, the final of the World Cup will be played in Texas, California or New Jersey. By then, the tournament will have completed 39 days, 11 more than during the World Cup in Qatar.
In the United States, Mexico and Canada, 103 matches will have been played by 48 countries in just under six weeks. The enormous field of participants, expanded by sixteen countries, offers prospects to developing soccer nations, but on the other hand is an extra burden on soccer players in an already murderous playing schedule.
The final plans for the 2026 “Jumbo World Cup” were presented Wednesday at a FIFA congress in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
‘More than too much’
Arno Vermeulen, NOS soccer commentator, thinks it’s a problematic concept. “It’s not good news,” he says. “There are going to be a lot of countries competing that are weak in quality and the tournament lasts far too long. It’s a defeat for the soccer players.”
Vermeulen resents new World Cup format: ‘It’s going to be more than too much’
FIFA’s original idea was to play in as many as sixteen pools of three countries. This was eventually abandoned: there will be ‘just’ twelve pools of four after all. That is a windfall, Vermeulen believes, but otherwise there is little to cheer about.
“The tournament is taking an awfully long time, while soccer players are already complaining enormously about the playing schedule. It was all too much, but it is now becoming even more than too much. Players sometimes have to quit early as internationals because of the crowds now.”
Michael van Praag, former KNVB president and former UEFA administrator, sees it differently. “I thought the number of 32 countries at a World Cup was actually too small, if you realize that there are 211 members at FIFA. With 48 participants, only about 23 percent still participate: that’s still meager.”
When Van Praag ran for FIFA president in 2015 – he would eventually withdraw – he advocated for more non-European participants at world championships.
With the fact that FIFA president Gianni Infantino could well use the votes of those other countries for his upcoming re-election, it has little to do with it, according to Van Praag.
“He has been calling this for a very long time: on the contrary, it is something that has been held back for a very long time. I think his possible successor would have done it as well.”
Van Praag has no problem with World Cup with 48 countries: ‘Don’t see the objection’
A larger and diverse field of participants was ultimately unavoidable, according to Van Praag. “If the majority of members think this is important, then it happens. That’s democracy after all. And I also understand quite well that soccer countries in development want this, because then they can also play at a World Cup one day.”
Booster for Suriname?
One such developing soccer country is Suriname, part of the Concacaf. There are opportunities for Natio, as the Suriname soccer team is called, because of the expanded field of participants.
Soerin Mathoera, vice president of the Suriname Football Federation, is therefore pleased with the new format, although he also feels within the revamped concept that the Concacaf is underrepresented. “The new World Cup offers opportunities for countries to showcase themselves on a world stage. More talents from different areas can showcase themselves.”
Being present at a World Cup would be a big help to Surinamese soccer. “It provides more competition, more entertainment and more money for FIFA. That eventually flows through to the smaller soccer countries. It helps us in our development and professionalization. It gives us a fair chance.”