The tears of joy might still be flowing down the streets of Buenos Aires but across the rest of the world plans are already being made to wrestle Argentina’s crown from them in the summer of 2026 when the World Cup will swell to 48 teams, duking it out across Canada, Mexico and the United States. It is of course way, way, way too early to think about who might be lifting the trophy in a stadium to be confirmed on a date to be confirmed, but that has not stopped us. Look, it’s only so often the internet is really that interested in international football. We’re going to milk this for every drop.
Without further ado, here are our favorites to be crowned world champions in 2026:
They may not have won this time out but one suspects the late 2010s and 2020s may well be the era of French supremacy and it is hard to see them traveling to North America in three and a half years as anything other than favorites. Raphael Varane, N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud may well have exited but when the likes of Ibrahima Konate, Aurelien Tchouameni and Randal Kolo Muani are primed to step in there may be no noticeable dropoff in performances. By 2026 Kylian Mbappe will be 27, on his current trajectory he will be the best player in the world, quite possibly at the peak of his powers. It could be an awe-inspiring sight.
The best side of the 2022 World Cup until the penalty shootout against Croatia, so many of their best performers are only going to be better in the USA, Canada and Mexico. The most intriguing question of all around this side will be where Vinicius Junior has got to, could he be the next Neymar on whom the hopes of a nation rest? He will certainly have a dangerous supporting cast in attack and a midfield built around Bruno Guimaraes and Palmeiras’ Danilo should provide for solid foundations.
Almost all of England’s best players in Qatar ought to be greatly improved by 2026 and there is a tempting narrative whereby the pain of Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup are the growing pains any great side must go through before they reach the summit. To do so, however, they will probably need a reliable goalscorer. Will Harry Kane, with his 33rd birthday right around the corner? England are not the only team facing the great existential question of the modern game — where have all the strikers gone — but they may feel it more than most.
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Ultimately Portugal’s 6-1 evisceration of Switzerland proved to be more of a teaser for the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era than a great break with the present. Given time, Goncalo Ramos could an adequate successor to the greatest scorer in men’s international football whilst behind him Portugal will tick the boxes of veteran talent (Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias), stars on the rise (Rafael Leao, Antonio Silva). What matters most is that they find a successor to Fernando Santos who can enhance those talents.
Where there is Pedri and Gavi, there is cause for great optimism. Indeed though, Luis Enrique will ultimately feel a great degree of disappointment at how early his side crashed out of the tournament. He may well have done his successor an almighty favor by filling the fringes of his squad with youngsters rather than the likes of Sergio Ramos and David de Gea.
It may look disastrous on paper but rerun their group stage campaign 10 times and Germany would have gotten out of it eight or nine. There are also prospects waiting in the wings, Germany won the Under-21 Euros in 2021 and are favorites to retain it next summer. However, there is certainly work to be done before 2026 if they are to break the streak of group-stage eliminations, starting with a defensive production line that has dried up over recent years. The fact that Germany seem to be producing technical, attack-minded midfielders far above all else is not a problem that can be addressed in one World Cup cycle, it will need to be at some stage.
There are an awful lot of extremely talented young footballers in the Netherlands, many of whom Louis van Gaal blooded over the last month. Yet perhaps the most intriguing is Frenkie De Jong; a few years ago the general consensus might have been that at 28, he would be one of the best, if not the best, midfielders in the world by the time of this upcoming World Cup. He showed in Qatar that that is still a reasonable prospect but he will need to find a more conducive environment to fulfill that potential than Barcelona.
To put the holders so low is not to disparage the talent they do have but it is worth remembering that in 2026 they will be a team that no longer have the greatest footballer of all time. At the very least it will be an almighty challenge to adapt to life post-Lionel Messi even if there is an opportunity to build an attack that is more collegiate, less about getting the ball to one man and trusting him to do the rest. This nation will doubtless be a contender in the next World Cup but may not go all the way.
They will definitely be there (at least that’s what Gianni Infantino said of all three hosts), something which puts them ahead of a great many other teams on their list. Crucially as well the outstanding midfield triumvirate of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah have time to develop into their peak together and there is young talent such as Chris Richards and (in goalkeeper terms) Matt Turner to anchor a defense around. It would really, really help if Gregg Berhalter and the U.S. Soccer Federation could rustle up a striker from somewhere though.
It is easy to envisage the Morocco of 2026 being rather like Croatia of 2022, experienced operators who are hellish to beat even if they do not score that many goals. Of the key players in the team that finished fourth in Qatar only Romain Saiss, Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech can reasonably be expected to age out of contention whilst some of their best will only improve over the next few years.
It might seem perverse to put a team who did not qualify for Qatar over some of the tournament’s great luminaries but the reigning world champions at the Under-20 level have an extremely talented young squad, most notably Andriy Lunin, Mykhaylo Mudryk and Illya Zabarnyi. Of course, there are a host of unknowns with this country in particular but if the circumstances are conducive, this team could make a major impact.
It is not so long ago that Italy were the toast of the European game, firmly ranked among the favorites to win in Qatar. That should serve as a reminder that plenty can change, for the better as well as for the worst, but for now, Italy seem like a team who will be looking for successors in big positions in 2026. Between now and then they need to find an elite striker, a partner for Alessandro Bastoni and midfielders to work with Nicolo Barella. They are not a million miles away but there is work to do.
Qatar was a step too far for the Luis Suarezes and Diego Godins, the frustration for Uruguay might be that Diego Alonso, who had seemed to be the man ready to usher in the new generation, persevered with them for too long in this tournament, on occasion to the detriment of Darwin Nunez and company. In 2026 the Liverpool striker, Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde and Ronald Araujo will be in their prime. The frustration for them may be that they will not get as many bites at the cherry as those who can ahead of them.
Two words: Erling Haaland. Another two: Martin Odegaard. That is foundation enough to make for a good international team, albeit clearly not enough to get to Qatar. They did however give the Dutch and Turkey all sorts of problems in a difficult group and you would expect them to be one of the 16 (!!!) best teams in Europe who will be given a spot at the tournament. From there the calculus is simple (and England in 2018-ish), keep it tight at the back and trust your superstar forwards to do the business at the other end.
Africa’s reigning U-20 champions began to show off some of their most prized young players in Qatar, where they had the youngest squad at the tournament. Much of their future core is aged around 22, with Mohamed Kudus seemingly on course for the leap to superstardom. There is an argument for putting Ghana higher but qualifying from CAF still promises to be brutal, nine guaranteed slots far from enough to showcase the depth of talent in Africa. If they make it, they could be a challenge.
Samurai Blue stunned the world with their performances in the group stage and their squad promises to hit greater heights over the coming years, particularly now that the eyes of Europe’s biggest clubs are trained on some of their breakout stars.
The criticism one might have leveled at Gustavo Alfaro’s side in Qatar is they seemed a little green, cowed by the moment against Senegal, when they failed to replicate their brilliance against the Dutch. That is natural for a young side, one who will probably grow together over the coming years. Expect them to achieve great things.
The days of them competing for the biggest tournaments will probably be over by the time of the 2026 World Cup but would you bet against Kevin De Bruyne conjuring some magic even at 35? Thibaut Courtois could still be one of the world’s top goalkeepers and though the next generation will surely not be as prized around Europe as those who came before them, there is promising young talent in Jeremy Doku, Amadou Onana and Charles De Ketelaere.
Calvin Bassey at one end and Victor Osimhen at the other sounds like an immediate recipe for a decent squad even if the pressure placed on Super Eagles head coaches would suffocate almost any other national team. If Nigeria could snare the international allegiances of Eberchi Eze they would have the makings of a really dangerous outfit.
Qatar taught Canadian soccer some tough lessons; don’t doubt that Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David will have learned them by the time they welcome the world to their country. The supporting cast around them needs to grow but it should. The highly-rated Ismael Kone has just secured a move to Watford whilst Tajon Buchanan is pulling up trees in Europe.
They will have to make it to the 2026 World Cup without Luka Modric, who might play on to the Euros in between, and in truth, there might be a relative decline over the coming years as Croatia adjusts to life without some of their greatest ever players. Eventually, the likes of Josko Gvardiol and Luka Sucic will be ready for the step up though, the former showed in Qatar that he already was some time ago.
The great Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly may not be what they are now at the next World Cup but Qatar showcased younger talents Ilman Ndiaye and Ismaila Sarr. They will need one of Pape Mate Sarr or Pape Gueye to make a leap into a top midfielder if they are to be sure of reaching the tournament but the early signs look good.
23. Saudi Arabia
Now so firmly established in the Asian hierarchy that they figure to be a near-lock for qualification, expect Saudi Arabia to look to build on their shock win over Argentina at a time when there is a clear attempt to use football as a vehicle for sportswashing, whether by buying the best players from around the world, buying major clubs or investing in infrastructure. The Asian champions at U-20 level in 2018 romped through qualifying for next year’s tournament and could make a big impact there, deepening their options for tournaments to come.
They may not have qualified for a World Cup before but the Eagles went close to reaching Qatar with a squad that should only get better over the coming years. Amadou Haidara, Sekou Koita and Cheick Doucoure are all impressing in Europe whilst Yves Bissouma, who will be 29 by the time the next tournament rolls around, should still be in his prime years.
They will certainly be there but the Tata Martino era has left scorched earth for his successors to build upon. There may be green shoots of recovery to be found in the bronze medallists from the Olympic Games but there is an awful lot of work to be done on the pitch if Mexico are to make a footballing success of hosting the World Cup.