The World Cup may have penalty shootouts even in the group stage come 2026. FIFA is considering using penalty kicks to break ties for all World Cup matches as part of a way to alleviate competitiveness concerns stemming from their proposed format change, according to The Times.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino wants to expand the World Cup to 48 teams, with 16 groups of three teams each, and he says that he has widespread support. While the change is not yet official, the expectation is that the FIFA Council will approve it.
The problem with the change is it creates three-team groups, which could be exploited by teams. Currently, the final matches of the group stage are played at the same time so teams won't conspire to draw on purpose when its mutually beneficial, but with three-team groups, the final group stage matches can't be played at the same time. That makes it much easier for teams to agree to play to uncompetitive draws in the final match, if it suits them.
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One solution to that is shootouts in the group stage. If there are no draws, teams will play that final match competitively.
Of course, using shootouts to break ties in the group stage won't sit well against traditionalists. A lot of fans already do not support an expanded World Cup and having to add shootouts just to make it work will only make more fans turn on it. Then again, there are others who will see more shootouts as an exciting addition to the World Cup.
While the FIFA Council has yet to vote on the expanded World Cup, they have at least considered it and discussed it. That isn't true of group stage shootouts. That proposal hasn't even been put to the FIFA Council yet, but it is reportedly on the table and they will need a solution for the final matches of each group if they do go with three-team groups. Shootouts is one of them.
Any changes to the World Cup field, format or rules will not go into effect until 2026.