FIFA is considering introducing penalty shootouts to decide whether teams should receive a bonus point when group stage matches are drawn at the 2026 expanded World Cup.
The next men’s tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico will feature 48 teams instead of 32 and is expected to feature 16 groups of three instead of the eight groups of four we saw in Qatar.
The top two finishers in each group advance to a round of the 32nd knockout round – an additional knockout round from the current format.
The FIFA Council previously voted unanimously for three-team groups, but the possibility of four-team groups is increasingly returning to behind-the-scenes talks.
It would mean more games and a potentially straightforward group stage, with the two higher-ranked teams qualifying for the knockout stages with relative ease. However, the risk of collusion would be reduced.
When FIFA works with groups of three, the introduction of penalty shootouts – to determine which team could claim a bonus point in the event of a tie after 90 minutes in the group stage – is an option to determine which team advances.
These shootouts can take place before kick-off or throughout the game.
However, if the penalty shoot-out takes place after the game, there is an increased risk of manipulation – for example if a certain result benefits both participating teams and eliminates the group third.
Since 1986, FIFA has scheduled the finals of group matches at the same time at World Cups to reduce the likelihood 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 West Germany win over Austria passed both teams at the expense of Algeria, who had defeated Chile before kick-off of West Germany vs Austria.
Marco van Basten, FIFA’s head of technical development, said in January 2017 that penalty shootouts could be introduced to decide a tie in the group stage.
“Shootouts could definitely be an option for tournaments with groups of three, where you play against two opponents,” Van Basten told Sport Bild.
“It can get pretty tight. For example, if one team draws a game 0-0 and the other wins 1-0, there is a high risk that all three teams will end up tied on points and goals.”
However, the possibility of groups of four is not entirely off the table as it would minimize the risk of collusion.
However, the downside would be a potentially straight group stage, with the two higher-ranked teams qualifying for the knockout rounds with relative ease.
In 2017, Ottmar Hitzfeld, who led Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to Champions League victory, said groups of three were “highly attractive”.
“The third game in the group stage of a World Cup is often boring,” he added, “because the big nations are usually through.
“With this format, excitement would be guaranteed right from the start and we would quickly move into the round of 16.”
FIFA has been asked for comment.
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