On the surface, 2014 wasn’t much different to today’s world of 2020. There was a space exploration breakthrough (though ‘merely’ landing a robot on a comet, rather than Bond villain Elon Musk’s next step in Solar System sovereignty), riots and protests against police brutality (Ferguson the initial stage instead of Minneapolis), there was even a global health crisis, with ‘Ebola’ not ‘corona’ being the most detested word. This year we’ve tragically lost Sir Stirling Moss, Little Richard and Kirk Douglas. Back then we had to say goodbye to Alfredo Di Stéfano, Maya Angelou, and Trigger from Only Fools and Horses.
Six years. Doesn’t seem such a long ago, does it?
Well, six years from now Planet Earth should be preparing to witness The Greatest Show On Earth, the 2026 World Cup, to be held jointly in the United States, Canada and Mexico, an event that will attract the largest ever number of nations and is expected to generate $14bn (£10.3bn) in revenue.
The 'United 2026' bid was selected by FIFA member nations on 13 June 2018, winning 134 votes compared to 65 for rival contender and perpetual bridesmaid Morocco. The 2026 tournament will be the biggest World Cup ever held, with 48 teams playing 80 matches over 34 days. Mexico staged the event in both 1970 and 1986 (where the winners were Brazil and Argentina, respectively) whereas the United States did so in 1994 (thanks to poor Roberto Baggio, Brazil, again!). Canada meanwhile staged the ever-growing Women's World Cup tournament in 2015.
The ‘94 edition had the highest average attendance in the tournament's history, while Mexico was the first nation to host the event twice after stepping in for Colombia in 1986, and whilst countries have shared the hosting privilege before (South Korea and Japan in 2002), never before have three nations collaborated for the honour. Of the 16 host cities, ten will be in the United States while the remainder will be split evenly between Canada and Mexico. Across 23 venues, 60 games will be hosted in ten US venues, with the expected three cities in each of the latter two nations providing 10 games apiece.
OK, we concede, the USA might not be the happiest place in the world right now (and with good reason), but a lot can change even in six days, let alone six years. Whatever happens in the 2020 election, there will at least be a new face in the White House in ‘26, per the constitution (though that currently seems to mean diddly squat). So, if you desire some much-needed positivity dear football fan, remember that we’re already a quarter of the way towards a most historic tournament: two years down, six to go.
Here are some of the things that you should be looking forward to at the United World Cup 2026.
If there is one thing you can associate immediately with North America, it’s size. And of course, the stadiums are no exception, colossi of capacity, comfort and character. The largest stadium in Mexico, the Estadio Azteca, holds both 90,000 spectators and a particular heartbreak of England fans of a certain age: it staged Diego Maradona’s "Hand of God goal" and "Goal of the Century" of 1986.
The stadium also hosted the "Game of the Century", when Italy defeated West Germany 4–3 in extra time in the 1970 semi-final. Eight of the top ten biggest sports stadiums in the world are located in the United States, and the final of the competition will be held at the 84,953-capacity MetLife Stadium, the most expensive stadium ever built when it opened in 2010, home to NFL sides the New York Giants and the New York Jets, staged SuperBowl XLVIII in 2014, and the final of Copa América Centenario.
Of course, the final list of venues has yet to be confirmed, but what fans should be clamouring for is an opportunity to have a viewing of ‘The Big House’. The 115,000 capacity home of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor provided a record attendance for a football (not ‘soccer’) match when Real Madrid and Manchester United came to town in 2014.
Super Size Me indeed.
Canada To Restore Its Reputation?
As a number of the remaining six host cities will take place in the Great White North, the nation of Canada will most definitely need to up their game from being competition compère in 2015.
Though the Women’s World Cup five years ago hit new heights in terms of a higher number of teams involved, a record total attendance of more than 1.35 million, and more broadcasters providing it greater exposure for three-quarters of a billion people worldwide, Canada came under fire for committing matches to artificial turf instead of grass, a decision that screamed gender discrimination and warranted a lawsuit against FIFA in Canada’s court of human rights by some of the biggest names in the game.
Of course, there'll be no such issue in supplying the men’s game with the highest levels of comfort and quality, but it doesn’t require the greatest memory to take umbrage with Canada and FIFA’s handling of the situation for female footballers.
Prodigies Hitting Their Pomp
One person who is certainly doing Canada a great service is Bayern Munich starlet Alphonso Davies. Not only has he become one of the most prominent North American footballers in recent memory, lighting up this season’s Bundesliga with almost Kryptonia speed, but, lest we forget, the 19-year-old man-boy is the first player born in the 2000s to score at a top level international tournament.
He’s one of a number in an exciting flock whose talent football has so far only got a mere tantalising glimpse of, and who should hit their prime by the time the tournament rolls around. There’s Real Madrid’s Brazilian boys Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr., Portugal’s João Félix (and maybe even his younger brother Hugo), and England will hope Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden will be living up further to their exciting promise.
Furthermore, with the expansion to 48 nations meaning greater opportunities for countries from Asia, Africa, and even Oceania to compete, which cult heroes will emerge to write their names into history?
Distance Is Relative
The controversial decision to host the 2022 World Cup in the tiny Arab state of Qatar does however mean that competing nations won’t suffer from travel exertion. The peninsula nation is a mere 11,586 sq km in size, about 50miles wide, and 160km (99 miles) in length - less than the distance from London to Birmingham. Qatar has 4.76% of the area of the United Kingdom and is smaller than the state of Connecticut. FIFA really couldn’t have gone further to the other end of the spectrum for the subsequent tournament.
As mentioned, the 2026 tournament will mark the first time a World Cup has been shared by three host nations. The distance between the most northern host city (Edmonton, in the Canadian province of Alberta) and the most southern (Mexico City in….well, Mexico) is almost 3,000 miles. In comparison, the 2018 World Cup in Russia had a furthest distance between two host cities (Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg) was a still respectable 1,546 miles - the same distance as from London to Istanbul. 2026 will surpass the longest ever distance between two World Cup host cities, set back at, where else?, USA ‘94. Stanford, California and Foxborough, Massachusetts were 2,687 miles apart.
Who Will Show Diana Ross Who’s Boss?
The ‘94 tournament in the USA provided a plethora of memorable moments, from Baggio’s stratospheric missed penalty that handed Brazil their fourth trophy; a mangled Maradona demonically charging at a poor camera and demonstrating to the world his wild, wired ways; England’s... oh wait.
No moment however is more endlessly rewatchable than the one before a single minute of professional football had been played.
June 17, 1994, the Opening Ceremony at Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago. The master of ceremonies was really the crème de la crème of what the US entertainment scene could offer, the Motown and Disco Queen, Diana Ross.
Ms Ross paraded around the pitch, nailing a medley of her finest classics finale. One thing she didn’t nail however, was the required penalty to climax the choreographed routine, by boshing it wide, leading most watching to wonder not ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, but more, where the hell did that ball go? It was made even more hilarious by the goal splitting in two and collapsing for what was obviously intended to be a ‘Chain Reaction’ to a goal.
So who will be ‘Coming Out’ to take up Diana’s mantle? Hands up for Lizzo trying a panenka.