Wolfsburg’s Schafer on club’s big American influence, USMNT’s Berhalter

Wolfsburg
@VfLWolfsburg_US
0 Comments

Long before Marcel Schafer was a German national team player and Bundesliga champion at Wolfsburg, he was a 22-year-old entering his third year as a regular at left back at 1860 Munich.

During that 2006-07 2.Bundesliga season, Schafer looked to his right and saw a new signing leading his back line in the form of veteran American center back Gregg Berhalter.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores to finish Chelsea win ]

The now USMNT head coach had just turned 33 when he made his 2.Bundesliga debut for 1860 Munich, months after captaining Energie Cottbus to Bundesliga promotion.

“He was already a leader,” Schafer said during a roundtable with American media on Monday. “It is not always easy for a very young player because a leader telling you very honestly the truth, some positive, some negative. You learn from experienced guys. When I made my step to Wolfsburg he was the first one to call me and congratulate me. We were always in touch, even in my time in the U.S.”

Schafer accepted a move to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017 largely to the front-office experience that the then-NASL club was willing to offer him.

By that time Berhalter had earned the reputation for making a fine meal out of low-budget spending as the head coach of the Columbus Crew.

“He’s a very very good coach,” Schafer said. “Maybe in a certain time, he’ll wind up in the Bundesliga but first he has a very important job to do with the United States men’s national team.”

[ MORE: McKennie scores first Juve goal ]

The American parallels between Schafer’s playing career and time as sporting director at Wolfsburg — one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the Bundesliga — don’t stop with the Berhalter relationship.

Schafer may not be playing any more, but his left center back is still a United States men’s national team player and its best in John Brooks.

The 27-year-old arrived at Wolfsburg from Hertha Berlin in 2017, mere months after Schafer moved to Tampa.

Brooks is in the form of his career this season, and Schafer is seeing the fruits of the defender’s prime. Brooks is among the top center backs in long passes — below Mats Hummels but above Dayot Upamecano — his terrific vision being met by increased aggression befitting of his 6-foot-4 frame.

[ MORE USMNT: Reyna scores in Dortmund draw ]

ProSoccerTalk asked Schafer about Brooks’ lofty position in the passing stats and the Wolfsburg sporting director pointed to higher goals for the center back, pointing out that the Bundesliga outfit is encouraging Brooks to improve the same thing that Berhalter wants to see out of him in the USMNT set-up.

“His passing skills are on a high level, even compared to Upamecano and Hummels,” Schafer said. “Passing skills, no doubt he has one of the best things, especially left-footed because you have just a few numbers. Sometimes I wish him to be more strong and dominant defender as he was in the last couple of weeks.

“Even Gregg, we have the same opinion. Right now what he needs to do is to say, this is the final step. With his size, he needs to score 4-6 goals every year. If he jumps nobody can stop him. He needs to be our German wall.”

Berhalter said last month that Brooks “is as steady as they come in terms of his personality … When the level steps up, that’s where he can step up as well. He’s shown that he can adapt to the game.”

Schafer, who dismissed talk that Brooks could transfer with just over 18 months left on his deal, is “very proud” of how the USMNT tower has come with Wolfsburg.

While Brooks has played every single minute of Wolfsburg’s 10-match unbeaten run to start the Bundesliga season, he earned status as starter was not automatic.

“We had a long and very honest conversation,” Schafer said. “He learned from the things we told him and the last couple of weeks are his best performances since he’s been in Wolfsburg. He’s dominated. He is a huge factor in our having one of the best defenses in the Bundesliga. I’m very proud of him and everyone knew he was not really in the plan with the coach but he was patient and he got his chance and performed at a really high level.”

Schafer later added, “With more consistency, he can be one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga.”

In addition to Brooks and USMNT youngster Ulysses Llanez — more on him later — Wolfsburg has a number of Americans at different stages of development.

USL transplant Bryang Kayo (18) is on Wolfsburg II and Schafer says Kayo has made “a great impact” and is working on his decision-making in the final third. Also with Wolfsburg II is former DC United center back Michael Edwards (20). LA Galaxy product Kobe Hernandez-Foster (18) is a left back with Wolfsburg’s U-19s and Isaiah Thomas is with the U-17s.

Schafer credits his time in Tampa with giving him added confidence in the American market, noting that blue-collar synergy with owners Volkswagen and NISA club Chattanooga FC.

“I learned more about the mentality from the U.S. players,” Schafer said. “I was really impressed. They were always ready to learn. They asked me a lot of things. That’s why we signed a few more American players in our club. I can confirm that American players have a very good mentality and mentality is very very important in my country. We are a worker town. We are Volskwagen. So if we sign players we have to check that the mentality is the right thing for Wolfsburg.”

That brings us back to Llanez, who Schafer admits was in between a rock and a hard place due to his age and experience.

Llanez, 19, headed to Wolfsburg’s academy from LA Galaxy II in 2019 after scoring twice with an assist in 12 USL outings by the age of 17.

He tore up the U-19 Bundesliga Nord with 11 goals and six assists in 16 games last season and Wolfsburg felt Llanez needed a step between Wolfsburg II and the Bundesliga.

Panama v USMNT
WIENER NEUSTADT, AUSTRIA – NOVEMBER 16: Ulysses Llanez with USMNT versus Panama (IPhoto by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

“Uly was our top top top young talent last season,” Schafer said. “He had a very impressive U-19 season. Our second team is in the fourth league in Germany. Fourth league to first league with (Champions League ambition), that’s a huge step. We have to be honest. We had a long discussion with player and agent and we found a step to Holland where a lot of young players get chances is better than staying at Wolfsburg and sometimes being a sub in the first league.”

Schafer looped Llanez into heady territory when asked why American players like Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna have made waves in Germany.

“Everybody is looking for top speed,” Schafer said. “Both of the players are really quick, really mobile, can handle 1-against-1 and that’s what I learned from the U.S. In Germany there is a huge discussion to have everyone able to play every position. What we miss now is players who are creative, who handle 1-against-1, who are a little bit crazy on the pitch. Pulisic, Reyna, Llanez, they are major 1-against-1 players and that’s what we can learn from the U.S.”

Schafer pointed to Atlanta United as a shining example of how Major League can be a stopgap between top South American talent and the upper leagues of Europe, citing Newcastle United’s Miguel Almiron as a player who took his game to the next level in MLS.

But he was also wary of the cost of playing the game at a youth level in the United States. Schafer was very surprised that he paid soccer tuition for his kids while here, comparing the $2000 per kid to the 60 euros his family plays to join a club in Europe.

“I said we will spend the money but it’s not the right system,” Schafer said. “Some parents are not in the situation to pay $2000 a year for kids to play soccer. You need to find the right way to create a fair system. … You have to think of a system, a bonus system, where the club that develops player or get them to the national team. … Money should be not the factor in whether (young players) get developed or not.”

Wolfsburg has a challenging few days ahead, with a home top-half clash against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday before a visit to Bayern Munich five days later.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Brazil turns on samba style, dances into World Cup quarterfinals

0 Comments

Five-time world champions Brazil turned in a five-star performance as they dismantled South Korea 4-1 in the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup on Monday.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

Up next for Brazil is a quarterfinal clash with Croatia, who survived 120 minutes and penalty kicks to beat Japan earlier on Monday.

The goals came early, they came often, and they came in style.

Vinicius Junior opened the scoring in the 7th, with an exquisite, composed finish through a sea of bodies and Neymar, who returned from the ankle injury he suffered 11 days earlier, made it 2-0 from the penalty spot just six minutes later. That’s when the samba style came out, with the game effectively already in hand and 77 minutes of must-watch television entertainment left to deliver.

Richarlison, who already scored the probable goal of the tournament in Brazil’s opener, perhaps one-upped himself with a sensational piece of flair and skill (and a decent bit of passing from some equally brilliant teammates), making it 3-0 just before the half-hour mark and reminding the rest of the world that Brazil were pre-World Cup favorites for a reason.

Lucas Paqueta got goal no. 4 after another sensational, liquid counter-attack of yellow shirts washing forward in numbers. Vinicius lifted the final ball over a crowd and picked out the West Ham midfielder, who applied the perfect finish with the inside of his right foot.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Paik Seung-Ho scored a fantastic consolation goal with 15 minutes left in the second half, but that was the extent of South Korea’s joy, as they come up short of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since co-hosting the World Cup in 2002, when they went to the semifinals.

Brazil vs South Korea
Photo: FotMob.com

[ MORE: World Cup schedule | World Cup odds ]


How to watch Brazil vs South Korea live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Dec. 5
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Well, first off: Neymar. One of Brazil’s all-time heroes is missing a World Cup from his resume and rightly or wrongly, that’s a marker as to whether the player will be considered one of the best Brazilians to ever do it. When healthy he’s among the five best attackers in the world. But how healthy is he? And how much can Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and company take pressure off the oft-fouled Neymar?

South Korea will have hope that Heung-min Son’s slow tournament is on the upswing after the Tottenham star played well late in delivering the win over Portugal to seal a group stage place. Look out for 26-year-old Napoli center back Min-jae Kim, whose name is dancing through the Premier League transfer rumor mill with renewed vigor following strong performances in Qatar.


Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

South Korea quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 28
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Paulo Bento
Key players: Heung-min Son, Young-gwon Kim, In-beom Hwang, Woo-yeong Jeong

Follow @NicholasMendola

Croatia eliminates Japan in 2022 World Cup’s first penalty shootout

0 Comments

Croatia is through to the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup after defeating Japan in the tournament’s first penalty shootout (1-1 AET, 3-1 PKs) on Monday.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

After reaching the knockout rounds just once in their first five World Cup cycles as a nation, Croatia is through to the quarterfinals for the second straight tournament. Japan, meanwhile, will look to 2026 to achieve their first-ever knockout-round victory.

Scoring chances were at a premium in the first half, as each side managed just three shots, but the quality of chances was very high, evidenced by the xG numbers (0.74 for Japan and 0.61 for Croatia, again, on just three shots each). All three of Japan’s shots came from within seven yards of goal, as did two of Croatia’s three.

The breakthrough came, as so many goals have done at this World Cup, in the final moments just before the end of the first half. Japan won a free kick down the right side and though Croatia defended the initial ball in well enough, they didn’t manage to clear it and it fell to Maeda seven yards out.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Perisic made it 1-1 with a sensational, long-ranger header in the 55th minute. Dejan Lovren played a dipping cross from deep and it found Perisic near the penalty spot, leaving the Tottenham utilityman with so much still to do. The ball bounced once, just in front of the goalkeeper, beating with him both power and precision to the bottom corner.

Dominik Livakovic began the penalty shootout with two straight saves, first denying Takumi Minamino, and then Kaoru Mitoma. 2-0 to Japan after two rounds. Marko Livaja put Croatia’s third attempt off the post, but Livakovic followed that up with save no. 3 against Maya Yoshida. Mario Pasalic converted to make it 3-1 to Croatia after four rounds.

Runners-up in 2018, Croatia into the round of 8 in 2022.

Japan vs Croatia
Photo: FotMob.com

[ MORE: World Cup schedule | World Cup odds ]

Follow @AndyEdMLS


How to watch Japan vs Croatia live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET – Monday, December 5
Stadium: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Japan’s comeback wins against Germany and Spain have been a joy to watch and anybody who watched them before this tournament will not be that surprised. Moriyasu has created a squad which has a total ‘team first’ mentality and so many players are stepping up to deliver in midfield and attack. From Maya Yoshida captaining the side and dominating at center back to Mitoma, Doan, Endo and Tanaka dazzling in midfield and attack whenever they feature, this is a joy to watch. The energy Japan plays with is dizzying and they will create plenty of chances against Croatia. The big question: can they be more clinical?

As for Croatia, the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic have been here before. They exude confidence and Josko Gvardiol is a fine young center back and the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic add extra class. This is a side which always seems to overdeliver and they will be thinking another deep run at the World Cup is on the cards. Surely they can’t get to the final again, right?


Japan quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 24
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 7
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Key players: Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ritsu Doan
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group E with 6 points (+1 GD)

Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group F with 5 points (+3 GD)


World Cup 2022 schedule – how to watch, last 16, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates

2 Comments

The World Cup 2022 schedule is locked in and this tournament in Qatar has been sensational as the knockout rounds will capture the imagination of the globe.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, while Germany, Denmark and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.

From the USMNT and England getting out of their group to Lionel Messi dragging Argentina through and Mexico just missing out on getting out of the group stages and amid upsets galore, there are plenty of intriguing games in the latter stages.

[ MORE: World Cup rosters for all 32 teams ]

We now have the small matter of the Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final to look forward to. Bring. It. On.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]  

Below is the schedule in full, details on how to watch the games and everything else you need..

[ MORE: World Cup odds ]


World Cup 2022 schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

  • When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
  • Knockout round kick-off times: 10am, 2pm (both ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H | Full tables


Round of 16 schedule

Match 49 – Saturday, December 3: Netherlands 3-1 USA – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 50 – Saturday, December 3: Argentina 2-1 Australia – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 52 – Sunday, December 4: France 3-1 Poland – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha

Match 51 – Sunday, December 4: England 3-0 Senegal – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Match 53 – Monday, December 5: Japan 1-1 (AET, 1-3 PKs) – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

Match 54 – Monday, December 5: Brazil 4-1 South Korea – Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm

Match 55 – Tuesday, December 6: Morocco vs Spain (preview) – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 56 – Tuesday, December 6: Portugal vs Switzerland (preview) – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm


Quarterfinal schedule

Match 58 – Friday, December 9: Winners Match 53 vs Winners Match 54 – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 57 – Friday, December 9: Netherlands vs Argentina – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am

Match 60 – Saturday, December 10: Winners Match 55 vs Winners Match 56 – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha – 10am

Match 59 – Saturday, December 10: Winners Match 51 vs France – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Semifinal schedule

Match 61 – Tuesday, December 13: Winners Match 57 vs Winners Match 58 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm

Match 62 – Wednesday, December 14: Winners Match 59 vs Winners Match 60 – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Third-place play-off

Match 63 – Saturday, December 17: Losers Match 61 vs Losers Match 62 – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm


Final

Match 64 – Sunday, December 18: Winners Match 61 vs Winners Match 62 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am


Group stage results

Group A

Recap/highlights: Qatar 0-2 Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Senegal 0-2 Netherlands  – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Qatar 1-3 Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Ecuador 1-2 Senegal –  Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Group B

Recap/highlights: England 6-2 Iran – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: USA 1-1 Wales – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: England 0-0 USA – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-2 Iran – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-3 England – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Iran 0-1 USA – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor

Group C

Recap/highlights: Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Mexico 0-0 Poland – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Argentina 2-0 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Poland 0-2 Argentina – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Saudi Arabia 1-2 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail

Group D

Recap/highlights: France 4-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: France 2-1 Denmark – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 0-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 1-0 France –  Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Australia 1-0 Denmark – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

Group E

Recap/highlights: Spain 7-0 Costa Rica – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Germany 1-2 Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Spain 1-1 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Japan 2-1 Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Costa Rica 2-4 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Group F

Recap/highlights: Belgium 1-0 Canada – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Morocco 0-0 Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Belgium 0-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Croatia 4-1 Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Croatia 0-0 Belgium – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights Canada 1-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor

Group G

Recap/highlights: Brazil 2-0 Serbia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Brazil 1-0 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 3-3 Serbia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 1-0 Brazil – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Serbia 2-3 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha

Group H

Recap/highlights: Portugal 3-2 Ghana – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Uruguay 0-0 South Korea – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Portugal 2-0 Uruguay – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-3 Ghana – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-1 Portugal – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Ghana 0-2 Uruguay – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah


2026 World Cup venues selected: Which cities will host in USA, Canada, Mexico?

0 Comments

On Thursday, nearly four years to the day after it was announced that the men’s FIFA World Cup would be returning to the United States and Mexico (and coming to Canada for the first time) in 2026, 16 host cities were announced as venues for the first-ever 48-team tournament.

[ MORE: Ranking which U.S. cities should host 2026 World Cup games ]

11 American venues were selected, with five located in the eastern third (despite FIFA’s interpretation of Atlanta), three in the central part of the country and three more out west. Two Canadian cities (Toronto and Vancouver) will host World Cup games for the first time. A pair of Mexican cities (Mexico City and Guadalajara) are set to host the World Cup for the third time (1970 and 1986) while Monterrey was chosen for the second time.

[ MORE: 2022 World Cup schedule, how to watch, start time, dates ]

Below is the full list of cities selected as host venues for the 2026 World Cup in the Unites States, Canada and Mexico…


Which 16 venues were selected as host cities for the 2026 World Cup?

USA (11)

Atlanta – Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Boston – Gillette Stadium
Dallas – AT&T Stadium
Houston – NRG Stadium
Kansas City – Arrowhead Stadium
Los Angeles – SoFi Stadium
Miami – Hard Rock Stadium
New York/New Jersey – MetLife Stadium
Philadelphia – Lincoln Financial Field
San Francisco – Levi’s Stadium
Seattle – Lumen Field

Canada (2)

Toronto – BMO Field
Vancouver – BC Place

Mexico (3)

Guadalajara – Estadio Akron
Mexico City – Estadio Azteca
Monterrey – Estadio BBVA

With 23 venues vying for 16 spots, a number of notable cities (and venues) were snubbed. Washington D.C., the nation’s capital (in a joint-bid with Baltimore, where games would have been played), was not chosen.

The Rose Bowl, where the 1994 World Cup final was played, was also not selected with Los Angeles presenting two stadiums as options; SoFi Stadium, home of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers, was selected. Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville and Orlando were the other American cities to miss out as 2026 World Cup venues, alongside Canada’s Edmonton.


2026 World Cup format and qualification

Now that we know the host cities, stadiums and venues for the 2026 World Cup, let’s talk about the tournament itself…

First and foremost, as host nations, it is believed (but not confirmed) that the USA, Canada and Mexico will all automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 odds: Favorites, underdogs, group stage winners ]

The 2026 World Cup will be the first tournament featuring 48 teams split in 16 groups of three. Each team will play two group stage games (down one from three), with the 1st- and 2nd-place finishers advancing to the round of 32. It will also be the first World Cup played across three different host nations.

The idea behind adding 16 teams is that one round of group stage games is eliminated and replaced by an additional round of win-or-go-home games in the knockout rounds.

Given that the final round of group games can carry very little, or even no, weight pending earlier results, the new format will guarantee that nearly every game at the 2026 World Cup is hugely consequential.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 rankings: Who are the favorites? ]

Yes, FIFA will make a lot more money by changing the format, but fans will also be treated to a better quality product, from beginning to end, with even more global superstars from “lesser” national teams than ever before.

Follow @AndyEdMLS