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 By Tom Marshall

How might a 2026 World Cup look with the U.S., Mexico and Canada as hosts?

It's official: The United States, Mexico and Canada will bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup, following an announcement on Monday in New York City. 

While the specifics of the bid are not entirely known at this stage, some details did emerge, the most notable of which was the breakdown of the 80 total games: The U.S. will get 60, with Mexico and Canada staging just 10 apiece.

Given what we know about a tournament that will feature 48 teams and 16 groups, I took a shot at how the tournament might look. Remember, though, that this isn't an exact science and there's a bit of guesswork involved. For example, there is no clear idea of how many venues will be used or in which cities they will be located.

How will the venues be split?

One of the key strengths of this bid is the abundance of stadiums over the three countries. Indeed, even with a total of 80 matches to be played, it is clear that some big-name cities and venues will miss out. It is also possible that some venues that are used have yet to be built.

There will need to be a mechanism so ensure teams aren't making long journeys or crossing from East to West Coast for every game, especially in the early part of tournament. The issue of altitude must also be considered; no team will want to travel from a group stage in Canada or the United States' northeast to the high altitude of Mexico City.

One idea is to assign two geographically-friendly venues to each three-team group. Nations could then also pick a pre-tournament base camp in the area.

Group A: Los Angeles (two venues)
Group B: Phoenix and Las Vegas
Group C: Miami and Orlando
Group D: Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia
Group E: New York and Boston
Group F: Seattle and Vancouver (two games in Canada)
Group G: San Diego and Guadalajara (one game in Mexico)
Group H: Toronto and Montreal (three games in Canada)
Group I: Pasadena and Guadalajara (one game in Mexico)
Group J: San Jose and Santa Clara
Group K: San Antonio and Dallas
Group L: Mexico City (two venues; three games in Mexico)
Group M: Monterrey and Houston (two games in Mexico)
Group N: Chicago and Detroit
Group O: New York and Montreal (two games in Canada)
Group P: Atlanta and Nashville

Brazil celebrate their hard-fought victory over Italy in the first World Cup final to be decided on penalties.
The last time a World Cup was held in North America, Brazil were victorious.

After the group stage, the number of venues would be reduced. Based on the model above, in which they were both allocated seven matches, Mexico and Canada would host three games apiece in the 32-team first knockout round.

Round of 32: Los Angeles, Pasadena, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Seattle, Santa Clara, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, New York, Monterrey, Mexico City, Vancouver, Toronto.

Round of 16: New York, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pasadena, Dallas, Toronto, Mexico City

Quarterfinals: New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles

Semifinals: Los Angeles, Chicago

Final: New York

The most logical scenario -- especially given reaction to the announcement in Mexico -- would be for the opening game to be played in Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, which hosted World Cup finals in 1970 and 1986. The final, meanwhile, would likely be played in New York or Los Angeles; Pasadena's Rose Bowl hosted the 1994 decider between Brazil and Italy.

Which teams will qualify?

According to FIFA proposals, which are expected to be ratified next month, the allocations for each confederation in 2026 will be as follows:

16: Europe; 9: Africa; 8: Asia; 6: South America; 6: North, Central America, Caribbean; 1: Oceania. The final two places will be decided in a playoff tournament. 

Based on the latest FIFA rankings, these are the teams that would make it: 

Europe: Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, Poland, Italy, Wales, England, Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland

Africa: Egypt, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Congo DR, Tunisia, Ghana, Ivory Coast

Asia: Iran, Korea Republic, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Syria

South America: Brazil Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru

North, Central America, Caribbean: Mexico, U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti (The three hosts are expected to be given automatic qualification)

Oceania: New Zealand

Places 47 and 48 would be decided at a six-team tournament held in the host country (or countries) in November 2025. Excluding UEFA, one team from each of the other five confederations would qualify, with the host confederation -- CONCACAF in this case -- providing the sixth participant.

Based on current FIFA rankings, Ecuador, Morocco, Honduras, Curacao, China, Tahiti would comprise the playoff entrants. Ecuador and Morocco would be seeded and get a bye through an opening round, from which two of the remaining four countries would qualify to face them for a spot at the finals.

What could the groups look like?

If the hosts are seeded, as has happened at previous World Cups, and the remaining 13 teams are the highest-ranked nations, the seeds would be: United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Colombia, France, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, Poland, Italy and Wales.

FIFA will likely attempt to keep apart teams from the same federations in the opening stage; here is a look at how the final groups could look, with the host nations based in their own country.

Group A: United States, Northern Ireland, Morocco (Los Angeles)
Group B: Brazil, Senegal, Iceland (Phoenix and Las Vegas)
Group C: Argentina, Turkey, Panama (Miami and Orlando)
Group D: Germany, Nigeria, Iran (Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia)
Group E: Chile, Korea Republic, Croatia (New York and Boston)
Group F: Colombia, England, Cameroon (Seattle and Vancouver)
Group G: France, Australia, Tunisia (San Diego and Guadalajara)
Group H: Canada, Slovakia, Egypt (Toronto and Montreal)
Group I: Portugal, Burkina Faso, Japan (Pasadena and Guadalajara)
Group J: Switzerland, Ecuador, Uzbekistan (San Jose and Santa Clara)
Group K: Spain, Peru, Haiti (San Antonio and Dallas)
Group L: Mexico, Republic of Ireland, Syria (Mexico City)
Group M: Poland, Costa Rica, Congo DR (Monterrey and Houston)
Group N: Italy, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay (Chicago and Detroit)
Group O: Wales, Ghana, United Arab Emirates (New York and Montreal)
Group P: Belgium, New Zealand, Ivory Coast (Atlanta and Nashville)

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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