FIFA are considering introducing penalty shootouts in the GROUP STAGE of the 2026 World Cup – to award bonus points if a match ends in a draw at the 48-team tournament in the USA, Canada and Mexico
FIFA are considering introducing penalty shoot-outs to the World Cup group stages, with successful teams potentially earning bonus points at the end of tied games at the 2026 tournament.
The Athletic has reported that the decision to implement shootouts – either before kick-off or at full-time – in tied group stage matches in 2026 is being discussed.
In four years time the World Cup will be held across the north American continent, with matches set to take place in each of the USA, Canada and Mexico in a trilateral tournament.
As a result there will be an extra knockout round following the groups, with the top two sides set to qualify from the 16 three-team groups – a system adopted following a unanimous FIFA vote.
Staging the shootouts after games does however give rise to potential collusion between the countries involved – something FIFA would understandably be eager to avoid.
A situation could arise in which a particular result benefits both sides in question, and thereby eliminating the third team in the group.
FIFA are considering introducing penalty shootouts to the group stages of the 2026 World Cup
Since 1986 the final round of fixtures in each group has been played at the same time in order to prevent such a circumstance from arising.
So far in Qatar the group stage has seen nine draws – with five of them goalless – which has left several groups coming down to the wire in order to decide who progresses.
And FIFA’s chief officer for technical development Marco van Basten has long been a proponent for the introduction of shootouts to help decide tight groups at tournaments.
Denmark’s 0-0 draw with Tunisia on November 22 was the first of five such results so far
‘Shootouts could indeed be an option for tournaments with groups of three in which you play against two opponents,’ he 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.’
The 2026 tournament will be the largest in the competitions long history since it was first played in 1930, when Uruguay won the first of their two titles.
However, although a unanimous vote has already passed on the topic of three teams, the conventional four-team group format has reportedly not been entirely written off.
Marco van Basten argued that three-team groups would leave the standings very tight
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.
Ottmar Hitzfeld believes a three-team system would increase the ‘tension’ of final games
It is thought that the current format decreases the risk of two teams playing out a game that merely benefits the both of them, such as 1982’s “Disgrace of Gijon”.
West Germany beat Austria 1-0 – a result that sent both sides through to the next round at the expense of Algeria, who had beaten Chile earlier the same day – with the two sides controversially playing out the rest of the game largely uncontested.
However Bayern Munich’s Champions League-winning coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes that the final game of the group stages is already a ‘boring’ affair, and a change to the three-team system would increase excitement.
‘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, tension would be guaranteed from the beginning and we would swiftly move to the knockout stage.’