By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on February 1, 2024.
TORONTO – The 2026 World Cup tournament path will become a little clearer Sunday with a televised reveal on some schedule details.
On Sunday, the world will learn the host city allocations for the 48-team tournament’s 104 games as well as the location of the competition’s opening matches in Canada, Mexico and the U.S., plus the semifinals and final.
With the three co-hosts already assured of their tournament berths, the show will also disclose where Canada, Mexico and the U.S. will play their group games – expected to be in their home countries.
For Canada, that means Toronto and Vancouver.
Mexico’s host cities are Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey. Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle will host games in the U.S.
The complete schedule picture will have to wait, given the other 45 competing teams have yet to be decided with qualifying already underway in CONMEBOL (South America), the AFC (Asia) and CAF (Africa). Qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers lNorth and Central America and the Caribbean, starts in March.
CONCACAF could send as many as eight teams to the expanded tournament whose draw is scheduled for early December 2025.
There will be 12 groups of four teams in the first round, with the top two from each group plus the eight best third-placed sides moving into the knockout round of 32.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which saw the Canadian men take part for the first time in 36 years, featured 32 teams and 60 games.
The 2026 edition was originally slated for 80 games with Canada and Mexico expected to stage 10 each and the U.S. hosting the other 60. But the format has since been changed to 104 games.
Expect the U.S. to still have the lion’s share of fixtures.
But CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver native who doubles as FIFA vice-president, believes Canada will be well-served with the schedule.
“I think we’ll be happy with what comes out Sunday. Then it’s a matter of executing it,” he said in an interview Thursday after being the guest of honour at an Empire Club of Canada luncheon titled “World Cup 2026: A Moment on the World Stage for Toronto.”
Montagliani will be front and centre again Sunday, along with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, at the reveal show in Miami where CONCACAF is headquartered.
Arranging the tournament schedule is a complex affair, Montagliani said.
“it wasn’t easy. A lot of it is even technical, It’s not even who gets what “¦ But I think we’re in a good spot. I’m pretty sure everybody will be happy, including our venues and our stakeholders in terms of what comes out Sunday.”
Tournament organizers are using a “pod system” to reduce travel for teams during the group stage. Kickoff times have to be carefully considered to make viewing times easier for fans back home.
“If you have a big European team, they shouldn’t be kicking off at 3 a.m.,” said Montagliani.
Mexico will become the first country to stage the FIFA men’s World Cup for a third time after hosting in 1970 and 1986. The U.S. hosted the 1994 tournament.
Canada has never hosted the men’s World Cup although it tried to get the 1986 edition after Colombia, the original choice, said it could not stage the tournament for financial reasons. Canada, the U.S. and Mexico all submitted bids to be the replacement host with Mexico eventually being chosen by FIFA, much to the ire of Canada and the U.S.
Canada hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup, as well as other age-group world championships.
Montagliani, speaking in a fireside chat format with Toronto Region Board of Trade president and CEO Giles Gherson at the Empire Club luncheon, said the hope is the 2026 World Cup will see soccer “really grabbing the hearts of Canadians.”
“You think we are mainstream. We’re not there yet,” he said of the sport here. “I think this World Cup will be the ultimate kicking down the door. I think it will be a tipping point”
Montagliani said CONCACAF, riddled with scandal when he took over, was “morally bankrupt “¦ financially bankrupt, literally, and we were football bankrupt. Which is as important as the other two.”
“We had no football. We had the Gold Cup. We had nothing on the women’s side. No events. We had nothing. No equity in the game.”
CONCACAF has since gone from a few hundred games a year to more than 3,000, including all levels.
“And by doing that we got our DNA back,” he said. “And then we built obviously the commercial side and we went from bankruptcy to now, in (the) seven years I’ve been president, we’re a billion-dollar confederation.”
Montagliani, who was president of Canada Soccer before being voted CONCACAF president, also told the audience it is time to build a Canadian national training centre.
“I don’t like to put pressure on situations but I will do it today. Because this is Canada. I think it’s time we get a national training centre in Canada,” he said to applause.
The U.S. has announced plans to build a national training centre in the Atlanta area, helped by a US$50-million donation from billionaire Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS’s Atlanta United.
Thursday’s luncheon was a Who’s Who of Canadian soccer with the audience including Peter Montopoli, chief tournament officer FIFA World Cup 2026 Canada, Canada Soccer president Charmaine Crooks and board member Kelly Brown, CPL commissioner Mark Noonan, Toronto FC president Bill Manning, York United coach Martin Nash and fellow former Canadian internationals Craig Forrest and Jim Brennan, among others.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024