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FIFA mulls NASL-style shootouts for 2026 World Cup group stage

Gab Marcotti and Shaka Hislop join Outside the Lines and have their say at FIFA expanding the World Cup to 48 teams.
Gab Marcotti joins Outside the Lines to discuss the reasons behind moving the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2026.

Marco van Basten has said FIFA is considering using shootouts in group-stage games at the 2026 World Cup and may revive the old NASL-style penalties for the tournament.

Former Netherlands star Van Basten, who became FIFA's chief officer for technical development in September, is responsible for all technical areas from football technology innovation to refereeing.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has already received the green light for his plan to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026, with the group stage is set to involve 16 groups of three teams.

However, three-team groups will increase the prospect of sides contriving to play out a mutually convenient draw in the final group game of the group, as well as the possibility that they will be level on points and goals at the conclusion of the group.

Last month, it was reported that FIFA officials were considering bringing in shootouts for group games to address the issue. 

And speaking to Sport Bild, Van Basten said: "Shootouts could be an option for tournaments with groups of three in which you play against two opponents."

The two teams playing in the final group game could be in a position where they know playing for a draw would send them both through at the expense of the third team.

Having a shootout at the end of drawn games, thus forcing a result, would remove that possibility.

However, it would not completely remove the possibility of playing for a specific result, such as 1-0, that would eliminate the team not playing.

Van Basten added: "It can get pretty tight. If one team, for instance, draws one match 0-0 and wins the other 1-0, there's a high risk that all three teams are level on points and goals in the end."

Marco van Basten said FIFA is considering a range of changes to the game for the 2026 World Cup.

FIFA may also abandon static spot kicks for the tournament in favour of a method similar to that previously used in domestic soccer in the United States, first in the NASL in the 1970s and 1980s and then for a brief period in the 1990s.

Van Basten said it is possible that the basic "best of five" would be retained but penalty takers would be positioned 25 metres from the goalline and then be given eight seconds to score.

"The keeper is not allowed to leave the box," Van Basten added. "Once he parries the ball, it's over.

"If you have those shootouts after 90 minutes and one team scores five times, another one four times and the third only three times, it's much easier to determine the winner of a group."

However, he said FIFA is looking at several options, with shootouts just one example of what could be done if teams were level on points.

"Shootouts are spectacular for the viewers and they are interesting for the players," Van Basten said. "A [traditional] penalty is over for him after a second, but he has several options in a [NASL-style] shootout. He can dribble, shoot, wait how the goalie reacts."

Van Basten said FIFA would test ideas over the years leading up to 2026, which is tipped to take place in the United States, potentially in conjunction with Canada and Mexico

The former AC Milan star has said other rule changes are under consideration to make the game more attractive.

These could include a "period of effective playing time" toward the end of every match to stop teams wasting time, allowing teams to make more than three substitutions, and a "time penalty" -- or sin bin -- instead of yellow cards.

On the first point, Van Basten said: "We are aware of the problem of playing for time.

"The spectators want to see action, goals, tackles. The longer a substitution or free kicks or the treatment of an injured player takes, the more playing time is lost. We have to watch that carefully.

"That's why we're also discussing turning the final 10 minutes into a period of 'effective playing time.' In every second, the ball has to roll. Because if a team leads they will try everything to waste time, for instance through substitutions."

On sin bins, he said: "You don't get a lot out of a yellow card as the team on the attack. One idea is to replace yellow cards with a time penalty of five or 10 minutes.

"That's discouraging. It's more difficult to play with 10 against 11, not to mention eight or nine versus 11."

Van Basten also suggested he was open to the idea of abolishing the offside rule -- a concept tested by German football magazine 11 Freunde late last year

There had been experiments over potential rule changes to make the sport more entertaining ahead of the 1994 World Cup in the United States, including a similar concept for penalties, kick-ins instead of throw-ins and larger goalframes.

Ultimately, the changes made for that tournament -- including three points for a win -- were fairly uncontroversial.

Meanwhile, German Football League CEO Christian Seifert has urged FIFA and UEFA not to neglect national leagues by focusing on expanded international competitions.

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.

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