The 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be the last staged in a single country, FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani said in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with FOX Sports.
Montagliani, also the president of the CONCACAF region which includes the United States, Mexico and his native Canada — the three co-hosts of the 2026 tournament, the first to feature 48 teams — made news on several other topics over the course of the 30-minute conversation.
But that was the biggest eyebrow-raiser.
"I don't think you'll see another World Cup held in one country again," Montagliani said.
"This is just me guessing, but I don't. Not because one country can't host it. The U.S. easily could. But the reality is that collaboration is always better. It's cements ties with your neighbors politically and economically, and it's easier to go to a government when they're not carrying the whole load. It works on so many levels."
Ukraine joined the existing Portugal-Spain bid for 2030 in October. Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay announced a joint bid effort for 2030 last month. Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia are reportedly considering one, too.
Morocco, which was beaten out for the 2026 event by the United Bid — "I wish we had trademarked that," Montagliani joked of the name for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada partnership — could team up with Algeria and Tunisia to try its luck again.
On the field at Qatar 2022, the four North American participants were eliminated before the quarterfinals. Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico failed to survive group play. The U.S. lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16.
Still, Montagliani remains bullish on CONCACAF's chances of producing a better showing four years from now.
"If you look at where these teams are, we're all building for 2026," he said. "Canada and the U.S. are very young teams. I think Costa Rica is also likely to refresh itself after this World Cup. And Mexico is kind of in between that, to be honest. They have some good young talent, obviously. So, they're looking at 2026 as well."
One challenge will be getting Canada, Mexico and the U.S. competitive games against top-level foes in the build-up to the next World Cup. Montagliani confirmed the three nations will automatically qualify for 2026 as hosts, which means that they'll play few high-stakes matches between now and then.
Sixteen CONCACAF teams will compete in the Gold Cup next summer. There has been speculation that 2024 could see another expanded Copa America, South America's quadrennial championship, hosted in North America, as was the case in 2016.
Ecuador was slated to host the 2024 Copa America but withdrew from consideration last month. Montagliani wouldn't be drawn into that discussion. But he appeared to leave the door open the possibility.
"We're working with our three host countries to align our calendars to give them enough space not just for friendlies but for proper competitions," he said. We're always open to hosting big events in CONCACAF."
On two other hot-button topics, Montagliani was unequivocal.
There are no plans for CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, South America's confederation, merge and provide a counterweight to UEFA, European soccer's powerful governing body.
"There's absolutely no reason to do that," he said. "Having collaboration? Absolutely. But I don't see any benefit of that even from a geographical perspective, logistics, and many other things."
There has been talk of potentially staging the UEFA Champions League final — the biggest match in the club game — in the U.S. Under FIFA rules, such a move would require both U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF to sign off. Montagliani threw cold water on that idea, too.
"I don't see how European fans would want that," he said. "You wouldn't play the Super Bowl in Frankfurt."
The 2023 FIFA Club World Cup is slated for early next year, but the dates and location still haven't been announced. The Seattle Sounders will become the first MLS team to compete in that competition.
"If Seattle gets to the final and plays Real Madrid, that would be huge for our region," Montagliani said.
The Sounders won't have the benefit of home-field advantage, though. Montagliani confirmed that the U.S. isn't in the running to host next year's event, despite media reports to the contrary. He did say he'd like to see the Club World Cup come to North America in the future.
Montagliani will be busy enough in 2023, on both the FIFA and CONCACAF sides.
The marquee tournament on the global calendar next year is the expanded Women's World Cup, which kicks off in Australia and New Zealand in July. Expanded to 32 teams (up from 24), there are concerns about the competitiveness of some smaller nations. When the U.S. women's national team trounced first-time participant Thailand 13-0 en route to winning the title at France 2019, it was the source of some criticism.
"Women's football is exploding around the world. So you might have some lopsided score lines, but one day you won't. And the only way you won't is by being a little bit brave," he said.
"On the men's side, every time the World Cup increased in size, there was an outcry from the traditional countries," he added. "If we just listened to the traditional countries, we'd have eight teams in the World Cup."
There's no question the landscape of global soccer is shifting. Whether or not North America hosts an expanded Copa America in 2024, there will likely be some sort of dress rehearsal for the next World Cup on the continent in 2025.
That could mean an expanded Gold Cup that incorporates guest teams from around the world. It's just one of many details expected to be ironed out over the next 12-18 months.
The venues for the 2026 World Cup were announced in June. The venues for specific matches — such as the opener and the final — should be determined by early 2024 at the latest, Montagliani said.
Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey are believed to be in the running to host the championship game, though Montagliani wouldn't handicap the contenders.
"It's going to be a busy few years leading up to 2026," he said with a smile. "We're excited."