Wednesday 31 January 2024, 15:00

FIFA Legends Wanchope and Gardner expect expanded FIFA World Cup™ to be gamechanger for Concacaf region

  • Paulo Wanchope Watson and Ricardo Gardner were in Zurich for the Concacaf Preliminary Draw

  • FIFA World Cup 2026™ will be the first to have three host countries

  • Canada, Mexico and the United States will be three of potentially eight Concacaf nations at the final tournament

The expansion of teams at the FIFA World Cup 2026™ and the hosting of the tournament in the Concacaf region will bring enormous benefits to the entire confederation according to FIFA Legends Paulo Wanchope Watson and Ricardo Gardner. Wanchope Watson and Gardner were on hand to assist with the Concacaf Preliminary Draw for the FIFA World Cup 2026™, with the draw being held at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.

Draw Assistant Paulo Wanchope (L) and Draw Assistant Ricardo Gardner (R) during the Concacaf Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2026™ - Preliminary Draw at Home of FIFA

The draw had extra significance to all Concacaf nations as the 2026 edition will see up to eight nations from the confederation featuring at the final tournament. Canada, Mexico and the United States play host with all three nations awarded guaranteed places. With the tournament increasing from 32 to 48 teams for the first time, it means that Concacaf will have their biggest ever representation at the tournament, with the additional spots available to prove crucial to the development of football in the region according to FIFA Legend, Wanchope Watson.

“It’s a game changer for the region because it boosts our ability to compete and our chances of participating in the tournament,” the Costa Rican icon told “As I’ve always said, football is a hugely powerful force that can move the masses and make a mark on society. “I think that, as youngsters [across the region] relish the opportunity to line up at the World Cup, a whole host of private companies will throw their support behind their national teams and related talent development projects. Expanding the World Cup is a great move on FIFA’s part.”

Wanchope Watson is no stranger to the FIFA World Cup™, having been involved in three of Costa Rica’s six appearances at the tournament: scoring in both the 2002 and 2006 editions before taking a role as assistant coach in the nation’s impressive run to the quarter final at Brazil 2014™. “The atmosphere is going to be buzzing not just in Costa Rica but throughout Central America given the proximity to the USA, Mexico and Canada. The limited time differences involved will also help people in Costa Rica to really get into the tournament. We expect it to be an unforgettable FIFA World Cup – we’ve got high hopes that that’ll be the case.”

With the three host nations already locked in, the qualifying tournament will see three further Concacaf nations automatically qualify for the finals, while two additional teams will enter an inter-confederation play-off for the chance to earn an appearance. The eight potential places available to Concacaf is double the number available to the region for the FIFA World Cup 2022™ with the Concacaf Preliminary Draw the first step on the long journey to qualification. These additional places will provide a boost in motivation for many nations in the region according to FIFA Legend, Ricardo Gardner.

Draw Assistants Paulo Wanchope (L) and Ricardo Gardner pose with the FIFA World Cup 26 Winner's Trophy prior to the Concacaf Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2026 - Preliminary Draw at Home of FIFA

“I am super happy for our region to be given this opportunity. It allows people to dream a little more, to know that it’s a possibility for them to have a chance to play in a FIFA World Cup,” said Gardner. “It is not always easy to come through from our region so to have these spots and more teams to be involved is just a wonderful opportunity for players to go out there and achieve their dreams.” Gardner was a hero in his native Jamaica, starring in his country’s only FIFA World Cup appearance in 1998. “I think the atmosphere will be amazing. Every time the FIFA World Cup comes around, it gets better and better. With it being in our region with three different countries and what they bring to the party, I think it’s a whole new ball game. It’s the first time it’s ever happened so I think it will be pretty good. It’s something that I am looking forward to, and I am happy for our region to be getting this opportunity. It’s massive for us.”

FIFA World Cup 2026™