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  • Babajide EverBlazin

FIFA considers introducing group-stage penalty shootouts at 2026 World Cup

FIFA is considering introducing penalty shootouts to decide whether teams should get a bonus point if group-stage games are drawn at the expanded World Cup in 2026.

The next men’s tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico will include 48 teams rather than 32 and is expected to have 16 groups of three teams rather than the eight groups of four we have seen in Qatar.

The top two from each group will progress to a round-of-32 knockout stage — an extra knockout round from the current format.

The FIFA council previously voted unanimously for three-team groups but the possibility of groups with four teams is increasingly returning to conversations behind-the-scenes.

It would mean more games and a potentially straight-forward group stage in which the two higher-ranked teams qualify for the knockout rounds with relative ease. The risk of any collusion, however, would be reduced.

If FIFA goes with three-team groups, introducing penalty shootouts — to determine which team could claim a bonus point in the event of a drawn game after 90 minutes in the group stage — are one option to settle which team progresses.

If the penalty shootout took place after the game, however, there is an increased risk of manipulation — for example if a particular result benefitted both the teams playing and eliminated the third country in the group.

Since 1986, Fifa has scheduled the final round of group-stage matches at World Cups at the same time to reduce the chances of this happening, and Uefa has followed suit at European Championships.

The change was introduced after the “Disgrace of Gijon” in 1982, when a 1-0 win for West Germany against Austria sent both teams through at the expense of Algeria, who had beaten Chile before the West Germany against Austria match kicked off.

Marco van Basten, Fifa’s chief officer for technical development, said in January 2017 that penalty shootouts could be introduced to determine drawn matches during the group stage.

“Shootouts could indeed be an option for tournaments with groups of three in which you play against two opponents,” Van Basten told Sport Bild.

“It can get pretty tight. If one team for instance draws one match 0-0 and wins the other 1-0, there’s a high risk that all three teams are level on points and goals in the end.”

The possibility of groups with four teams in each one, however, is not off the table completely because it would minimise the risk of any collusion.

The disadvantage, however, would be a potentially straight-forward group stage in which the two higher-ranked teams qualify for the knockout rounds with relative ease.

In 2017, Ottmar Hitzfeld, who led Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to victory in the Champions League, said three-team groups would be “highly attractive”.

“The third match in the group stage in the World Cup is often boring,” he added, “since the big nations are usually already through.

“With this format, tension would be guaranteed from the beginning and we would swiftly move to the knockout stage.”

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