2026 FIFA World Cup: what to expect?

Pro Shots / SIPA USA

Predicting what the 2026 FIFA World Cup may be like? It is, at any rate, interesting to do a projection exercise of how the global soccer tournament can become unique and unforgettable – based on what we currently know. And based on how we believe international football can develop in the next years. A careful preview of the 2026 tournament: looking at players, tactics, TV, and live streaming.

Players: who will star at the World Cup in 2026?

Unfortunately, for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, it is very unlikely that we can count on Lionel Messi (Argentina) or Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) due to a matter of age (they would arrive at 39 and 41 years old, respectively). Even players like Neymar (Brazil) or Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium) would be in the 34-35 years old age group, so it would be surprising if these players will participate in the 2026 North American tournament.

Pro Shots / Action Images

Clubs (especially the largest ones) are currently following a trend based on signing talented young players instead of established stars. This is partly due to the high prices that had been achieved after stellar performances at clubs such as Manchester City or Paris Saint Germain; their foreign investment has allowed them to pay very high figures for some stars – too high for others. To this must be added the delicate economic situation of the world of football as a whole due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All this together puts the general national and international football focus even extra on stimulating the maturation of especially the young(est) talented players. Taking this scenario into account, we can expect national teams to have lower age averages compared to former editions of the FIFA World Cup, even though the tournament will take place more than five years from now. Many of the featured players may at this moment be relatively very unknown, as still being very young. Like to see potential starring players, now more or less still below the radar? Read our post: Young Talented Players who can become the 2026 FIFA World Cup stars.

Young talented players possibly starring at 2026 FIFA World Cup
Philip Foden (England) celebrates scoring at the FIFA Under 17 World Cup Final in 2017. Will he also become a 2026 World Cup starr? Pro Shots / Action Images.

Famous already, and even more excelling in 2026?
Of those who are bound to have a leading role (assuming nothing strange happens) at the final stage in North America in 2026, we have, though, also the already known and famous players. For example Kylian Mbappé (picture below). He is the current PSG star who has already won a FIFA World Cup and who is expected to be participating in 2026 in his third edition of this tournament. Another name that seems destined to be a world star is Joao Felix. The attacking midfielder of Atlético de Madrid began to fulfill the expectations especially after signing for the Spanish club a year ago. He may become the leader of the Portugal national team once Cristiano Ronaldo ends his international career.

Pro Shots / SIPA USA

Also the North American national (host) teams such as Canada, Mexico or the United States can come with players with a fairly high profile. As we, for example, consider the case of Bayern Munich’s left back, Alphonso Davies or Lille striker Jonathan David for the Canadian team. Or that of Christian Pulisic from Chelsea FC, Sergiño Dest, recently signed by FC Barcelona or Giovanni Reyna from Borussia Dortmund, for the US team. As well as the cases of Diego Lainez from Betis or Érick Gutiérrez from PSV Eindhoven for the Mexican national team. All of them, for a matter of age and projection may be in their prime for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Tactics and style of play

We all know: the time that managers of the national teams can spend with the players is usually very limited. Except in the run up to large-scale tournaments such as the World Cup finals. It is difficult for the players to assimilate the game ideas of their national coach as natural as it can be fulfilled at clubs, where the manager has more training time. Taking this into account, the following is an interesting aspect as well.

At the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, the teams that ended up winning the competition – Spain and Germany, respectively – consisted of a core group of players who were in the same club. (In addition to having a group with other world-class players, of course). In 2010, the core of the Spanish team was FC Barcelona and the style of play of the Spanish national team was similar to that of ‘Barça’. In 2014, several of the players were part of Bayern Munich and that facilitated the connections and automatisms of the game of the German team. Now, the question is: which club will be leading by 2025, 2026, having several top players of the same nationality? Who will therefore perhaps make a mark also with their national team at the 2026 World Cup finals?

Furthermore, if we take current football as a reference when trying to predict the tactical formations and style of play in 2026, we can talk about the flexibility and dynamism that European football clubs currently show. Being specific: as a result of the Liverpool-success of the German coach Jurgen Klopp, a group of managers have emerged in the Bundesliga with similar styles. Such as Thomas Tuchel or Marco Rose, whose fast and high-pressing game has been growing within the ideas of managers at the highest level.

World Cup 2026 Format
Pro Shots / Zuma Press

Flexible tactics
Among the German managers is Julian Nagelsmann, the young manager of RB Leipzig. He has innovated with his tactical flexibility in which he changes the formation of his team during the game. Sometimes even several times, without changing players. In the English Premier League we have cases such as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal FC or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United, to mention two examples. They have included 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formations with the novelty of using full backs as center backs and switching to a back four during the match. Will they be playing a leading role in 2026 as well?

This leads us to think that in the future, tactical formations and playing styles will be much more flexible with much more mobility and constant pressing. Requiring greater physical deployment and greater concentration on the player’s part. And even a greater attention from the amateur fan to interpret and understand what is happening on the pitch. All these kind of tactical aspects could make the 2026 FIFA World Cup football in the USA, Canada and Mexico even more interesting than it will be anyhow!

TV and live streaming

World Cup 2026 Broadcast rights

The tv and live streaming at the World Cup in 2026 is expected to present some interesting innovations. These in addition to the normal advances that we have seen from football broadcasts all over so far. We are doubtlessly going to find even new forms of live streaming, bringing the tournament to the whole world – to everyone who is part of the FIFA world of football. In the last three editions of the FIFA World Cup, the limit of 3 billion simultaneous spectators has been exceeded for at least one minute. That is the equivalent to almost half the population of the planet (!). Considering the aforementioned fact and remembering that in the last 30 years there has been a progressive increase in the number of spectators, we might reach the limit of 4 billion spectators by the finals in 2026. And if besides the TV and live streaming features also the sportive aspect of the 23rd global soccer tournament lives up to the expectations, we certainly in 2026 will have a World Cup Soccer for the ages…

By Kevin Tanza