Following their qualification from Group 8 of the UEFA World Cup qualifiers, Finland have been pitted against Mexico and Ecuador in the group stages of the 2026 World Cup Finals.
The competition will be the first in its new format of 48 teams taking place. The tournament will open with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two teams progressing from each group to a knockout tournament starting with a round of 32 teams.
The number of games played overall will increase from 64 to 80, but the number of games played by finalists remains at seven, the same as with 32 teams, but one group match will be replaced by a knockout match. The tournament will also be completed within 32 days, the same as previous 32-team tournaments.
Hosted in the USA, Canada and Mexico as part of the United 2026 campaign, it will be the first World Cup that does not involve 5-time world champions Germany as both Finland and Norway knocked the international giants out in their group.
The current holders of football’s greatest prize is Spain, who were knocked out by Aapo Virtanen’s Finland national side just last summer in the European Championships Semi-Finals and no doubt Virtanen will be hoping that his final action as the Finland national team boss is to get as far as possible in the upcoming World Cup with his resignation from his post announced already to be after the tournament has concluded.
A surprising team in the 2026 World Cup is the qualification of Qatar following the 2022 World Cup in which they were the hosts and therefore received an automatic qualification. This time, Qatar have earned their qualification by merit as they finished third in the AFC World Cup Qualifiers, with Lebanon and North Korea missing out on this tournament by a large margin. They have been placed in a tough group against Spain and Ivory Coast.
In the build-up to the tournament, Finland have announced that they will be playing Venezuela two weeks before the start date, with more friendlies set to be announced in the coming months.
The World Cup squads must be announced on the 23rd May 2026 - just a few weeks before the start of the tournament. Finnish fans will be keen to see who Virtanen chooses in his side with Joel Pohjanpalo and Saku Ylatupa both finishing the Qualifiers on six goals a piece. This could possibly Pohjanpalo’s last major tournament in a distinguished international career that currently sees him level with Finnish legend Jari Litmanen on goals for the international side.
With Tuomas Keskinen becoming increasingly involved in first-team football at Virtanen’s old club Oulu, it will be interesting to see whether the 19-year-old 1-time international can overtake Internazionale’s 32-time Finnish international Jesse Joronen between the sticks.
Former Oulu players that played under Virtanen during his six-year reign at the club consists of Noah Nurmi, Antti Huhtamaki, Oliver Antman, Tatu Tiihonen, Thomas Makinen and Teemu Savolainen and Virtanen’s selection policy previously revolved around his old-guard at Oulu until recently when new prospects became more involved with the national side such as two recent debutants with KuPS’ Jorma Tahvanainen and Oulu’s 17-year-old winger Jukka Linnaluoto.
Virtanen is said to be ‘relishing’ the upcoming World Cup with Finland - the first that the nation has ever qualified for: “It’s another fantastic achievement to follow on from successes in the EUROs and the Nations League. Obviously Mexico and Ecuador are two very good sides, but we know well enough that no matter how much quality the opposition has, we have mountains of belief and tactical superiority as seen with beating the world champions in the EURO 2024 Semi-Finals.”
The 2026 World Cup will return to the traditional June until July arrangement rather than the November until December organisation around the predecessing Qatar World Cup in 2022.
Justice: I went mental when I saw Pohjanpalo stick the equaliser against Germany in the 85th minute when I thought all was lost - no shame.
Scott: As a title challenger, it’s as simple as you say - it’s growing impossible to deal with us in the form that we’re in and because we’re so consistent it becomes even worse for them. Pohjanpalo is level on Litmanen’s goalscoring tally for Finland, with one more goal to make him the nation’s best-ever scorer - he certainly is something special for this country!
LFCFan: It’ll be sure interesting how Liverpool deal with us this season! The records carry on at international level with the nation’s first-ever World Cup Finals now something to look forward to!