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2026 World Cup: FIFA to introduce penalty shootouts in group stage

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The Daily Mail has reported that FIFA, the organisation responsible for organising international football competitions, is considering implementing penalty shootouts at the end of the World Cup group stage in 2026, which the United States, Mexico, and Canada will hold.

The Mail cites The Athletic in saying that in 2026 if a group stage match ends in a tie, the teams would proceed to shootouts before kickoff or at full time, whichever is sooner.

Following the group stage, the top two teams from each of the 16 groups of three will advance to the knockout stage under a format agreed upon by a unanimous decision of FIFA.

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However, FIFA would understandably want to avoid the appearance of collusion between countries by avoiding postgame shootouts.

There may be times when two of the three teams in the group gain from the same outcome.

To avoid this scenario, each group’s last set of fixtures has been played simultaneously since 1986.

With nine ties (five of them goalless) in the group stage thus far in Qatar, the fate of several groups will likely be decided on the last day of play.

Marco van Basten, FIFA’s chief officer for technical development, has long advocated using shootouts to determine the winners of closely contested groups.

In a recent interview with the German publication Sport Bild, he said that shootouts could become a regular feature at competitions with groups of three in which players face off against two opponents.

“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.”

Since its inception in 1930, when Uruguay won the first of their two titles, the 2026 tournament will be the largest in the competition’s long history.

It has been stated that the traditional four-team group format has yet to be entirely written off, even though a vote on the subject of three teams has already been passed.

In a tournament of 48 participants, it is conceivable to have 12 groups of four teams, with the top two teams advancing and the eight best third-place teams also advancing.

The present system is intended to reduce the possibility of a “Disgrace of Gijon”–style draw between two clubs that benefit both.

The controversial 1-0 victory for West Germany over Austria knocked out Algeria, who had beaten Chile earlier that day, and advanced both teams to the next round.

On the other hand, Champions League-winning Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld thinks the group stage finale is uninteresting and that expanding to three teams would be a good idea.

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

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

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