The 2026 World Cup may still be on the distant horizon, but that has not stopped football enthusiasts from offering predictions ahead of the prestigious tournament.

The previous edition delivered a captivating spectacle as Argentina overcame a shocking start to navigate through a thrilling knockout phase before clinching their third World Cup title.

As the reigning champions set their sights on justifying their status as one of the bookmakers’ favourites to defend the title, formidable competitors from across the globe are poised to mount a serious challenge.

Qatar had the footballing world glued to their screens, and there's a feeling that the upcoming tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada will have a similar effect.

With significant changes, including an expanded team line-up, the 2026 World Cup is gearing up to be the largest and most captivating edition in the tournament's storied history.

We analyse some of the intriguing talking points ahead of the showpiece tournament.

Expansion to 48 Teams

One of the significant transformations for the 2026 World Cup is the tournament's expansion from 32 teams to 48 teams. 

This expansion not only broadens the global stage for football but also offers more nations the opportunity to showcase their talent amidst the world's greatest teams.

The increased number of teams injects heightened excitement into the competition, allowing lesser-known nations a platform to leave their mark on the world football map.

There is also a surge in available qualification spots, enabling more nations to secure their position in the World Cup through a rigorous and competitive qualification process.

This expansion ensures that countries previously on the periphery now stand an enhanced chance of earning their place among the football elite.

Hosts Qualify Automatically

The hosts of the 2026 World Cup - Canada, Mexico and the United States - will all receive automatic berths for the tournament.

FIFA has historically given host nations the right to play in the World Cup without qualifying, but this is the first time they have set aside three spots.

Their participation is guaranteed to ramp interest in the World Cup in each of the respective nations, ensuring that there will be a vibrant atmosphere throughout the tournament.

Will Evan Ferguson be a breakout star at the tournament?

As anticipation builds for the 2026 World Cup, football fans are speculating about which potential breakout stars may grace the global stage with their exceptional skills and emerge as the tournament's revelations.

Given his remarkable performances for Brighton & Hove Albion, Evan Ferguson is one player to keep an eye on, assuming the Republic of Ireland can get their act together to qualify for a major tournament.

They failed to qualify for the 2024 European Championship in Germany, leaving a lot to be desired about their chances of landing a spot in the World Cup.

Ireland will be one of the outsiders with the bookmakers to lift the trophy, but the extended format does improve their chances of featuring in the tournament.

Punters on the best football betting sites in Ireland will be monitoring their progress with interest and will hope the appointment of a new manager gives them the chance to upset the odds.

Can Argentina retain their crown?

Argentina's journey in Qatar was a rollercoaster, marked by the shock defeat against Saudi Arabia in the curtain raiser to the jaw-dropping showdown with France in the final. 

The pressure now mounts on the three-time champions, especially with their coveted crown up for grabs against formidable rivals, including 2022 finalists France.

Lionel Messi orchestrated Argentina's triumph with a spellbinding display, notching seven goals and three assists, scoring in each knockout round, including a memorable brace in the final.

Messi's stellar performance earned him the Golden Ball, making history as the first player to claim the award twice, having won it in Brazil in 2014.

Having finally laid hands on the prize that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career, question marks have been raised over Messi's involvement in the 2026 World Cup.

His performances in Qatar played a significant role in landing a historic eighth Ballon d'Or award, but the diminutive magician will be 38 at the upcoming tournament and is highly likely to miss out.

Argentina's chances of claiming back-to-back triumph on the global stage takes a significant hit without Messi in the picture, but it also opens the door for another unlikely hero to emerge.

Can Cristiano Ronaldo have one last hurrah?

Much like his iconic counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo's involvement in the 2026 World Cup has also been called into question.

His performance in Qatar was nothing short of underwhelming, scoring just once in five appearances and failing to inspire Portugal past the quarter-finals.

The 38-year-old continues to perform at a high level, tearing up the Saudi Pro League with 32 goals in 39 appearances for Al-Nassr, and he doesn't look like hitting the brakes anytime soon.

The footballing legend would be 40 at the upcoming World Cup, but you wouldn't put it past him to spearhead Portugal's attack in search of one last hurrah on the grandest stage.

Photo credit: Alamy