FIFA are reportedly considering introducing penalty shoot-outs in the 2026 World Cup group stages.
The 2026 tournament will be held in North America with matches set to take place in the USA, Canada and Mexico. It will be the first time in history the World Cup will be played in three different countries and will also be the first time 48 teams will be participating.
According to the Athletic via Sportsmail, the 48-team format is not the only change we are likely to see at the tournament as FIFA are working on introducing penalty shoot-outs in group matches with successful teams potentially earning bonus points at the end of tied games.
According to the Athletic, the decision to implement shootouts – either before kick-off or at full-time – in tied group-stage matches in 2026 is currently being discussed by FIFA technical committee.
FIFA intends to split teams into 16 groups of three, with two of those three teams progressing to the round of 32. This will mean that one extra knockout round after the group stages will be played in comparison to the current format.
FIFA had agreed that the top two sides would qualify from the 16 three-team groups.
However, with only three teams in a group, there are likely to be tighter matches and, as a result, tighter groups. To separate teams that finish on the same number of points, penalty shootouts could take place at the end of drawn games, with the winning side awarded a bonus point.
FIFA’s chief officer for technical development, Marco van Basten, has long advocated for the introduction of shootouts to help decide tight groups.
“Shootouts could indeed be an option for tournaments with groups of three in which you play against two opponents,” the Dutchman told German outlet 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.”
Although a unanimous vote has already been passed by FIFA on the subject of a three-team group, the conventional four-team group format has reportedly not been written off entirely.
With 48 teams set to qualify, it is mathematically possible to have 12 groups of four, with the top two sides progressing as well as the eight best third-placed teams.