England 2026 World Cup: BT Sport picks a possible XI to represent the Three Lions in USA, Canada and Mexico

BT Sport look ahead to the 2026 World Cup in USA and Mexico and picks an XI to end the Three Lions' long wait for a major trophy.

By Callum Davis Published: 12 December 2022 - 4.38pm

England may have come up short in Qatar, but most of the players who suffered quarter-final heartbreak at the weekend are young enough to be guaranteed another bite at the cherry when the World Cup heads to USA, Canada and Mexico in four years' time.

With head coach Gareth Southgate undecided on whether he will continue in the job, the Three Lions are in a state of flux for the first time in years - but England fans need not panic.

They will be one of the favourites to win Euro 2024 in 18 months' time, but what about their chances of ending a 60-year wait for major tournament glory at the next World Cup?

Read on for BTSport.com's predicted England line-up for North America in four years time.

Goalkeeper: Aaron Ramsdale

Jordan Pickford had a terrific World Cup and will only be 32 when they next tournament rolls around, but it is a case of when not if, Ramsdale becomes England's next number one.

The Arsenal goalkeeper is four years younger than Pickford and has the added advantage of Champions League football over the coming years.

The former Bournemouth stopper has gone from strength to strength under Mikel Arteta's stewardship and could reach new heights with an Arsenal team on the up and up.

The only other candidate right now looks to be Nick Pope, but the Newcastle number one will have to improve his distribution if he is to unseat Pickford and Ramsdale.

Right-back: Reece James

Widely expected to be England's first-choice right-back in Qatar, James suffered injury heartbreak on the eve of the tournament with Southgate deciding against risking the Chelsea man.

Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier have both likely played their last World Cup matches at the age of 32, and so the battle to be Three Lions right-back in North America will be between James and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

James is 14 months younger than the Liverpool man and a more rounded full-back, with ongoing question marks around Alexader-Arnold's defending. 

Centre-back: Marc Guehi

Harry Maguire was excellent in Qatar but will return to Manchester United’s bench on Boxing Day, throwing his long-term England future into doubt.

Guehi has impressed at club level for Palace since making the switch from Chelsea last season and was expected to be in contention to make the England senior squad having been a regular fixture for the U21s.

Guehi was called up to Southgate’s most-recent international squad for England’s Nations League matches against Italy and Germany, but failed to appear in any of those games and ultimately missed out on a place on the plane to Qatar.

Reliable in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, Guehi is one of the most natural fits to replace Maguire going forward and has already been touted as a future England captain.

Centre-back: Fikayo Tomori

Another Chelsea academy graduate unlucky to miss out on this year's World Cup.

Tomori was the name on everyone's lips when Southgate named his squad at the start of the month and eyebrows were raised when the AC Milan man wasn't picked.

All things being equal, he should now start to force his way into the reckoning more often, and he will be in the prime of his career at 27 when the next World Cup begins.

There are high hopes at Stamford Bridge for Levi Colwill, currently on loan at Brighton, while Man City defender John Stones will still be hopeful of making up one half of England's centre-back pairing for a third straight World Cup.

Left-back: Ben Chilwell

Chilwell was unfortunate to miss out on the World Cup due to an injury suffered just before the tournament, but he is young enough to go again in three-and-a-half years.

Eighteen months younger than Luke Shaw, the Chelsea man has all the attirbutes to leapfrog the Man Utd full-back in the England pecking order.

The former Leicester left-back may have even challenged Shaw for a starting berth in Qatar if injury had not so cruelly denied him a World Cup debut.

Centre-midfield: Jude Bellingham

The man around whom England will hope to build their team for at least the next decade, Bellingham's breakout as a world-class talent was thrilling to watch in Qatar.

Bellingham is perhaps at the very top of the list of world football’s most in-demand players after his exploits for England at the World Cup.

The 19-year-old’s stock was high before the tournament but his dynamic performances on the biggest stage have taken things to another level.

A move to the Premier League looks most likely but don't be surprised if Bellingham heads to the next World Cup as a Real Madrid Galactico.

Already showing leadership capabilities that suggest he could even be pushing to become England captain around the 2026 World Cup, it's scary to think that he will only be 22 when the tournament gets going.

Centre-midfield: Declan Rice

Still only 23, Rice is on course to become one of the best holding midfielders in world football by the time we get to 2026.

Bellingham enjoyed a breakthrough tournament and Rice will be determined to make sure he retains his place in a competitive England midfield in the coming years.

The West Ham looks destined to leave East London this summer and whichever club eventually signs him are going to have an elite talent on their hands.

The likes of Aston Villa's Jabob Ramsey and Carney Chukwuemeka have been ear-marked for international honours so Rice will have to ensure he continues to develop or risk being over-taken by the next generation of English midfielders.

Centre-midfield: Harvey Elliott

Elliott has enjoyed a breakthrough season for Liverpool but the diminuative playmaker is yet to make his mark on the international stage.

Given Mason Mount will still only be 27 by the time of the next World Cup, it does seem harsh to push the Chelsea man out of the England line up, but Elliott's ceiling is that high that he could have usurped Mount in 2026.

The Liverpool starlet will be the same age as Mount now for the next global tournament, and if he continues on his current trajectory, there is no reason why Elliott won't be a regular for the Three Lions.

Others who could be in contention for at least a place in the squad in 2026 include both James Maddison and Conor Gallagher.

Left forward: Phil Foden

Things are slightly clearer in attack for England where Foden will be 26 and in his prime.

The silky playmaker was benched for the opening two games in Qatar but forced his way into the starting XI and never looked back.

Arguably the most technically-gifted player in a generation, England's quest for a first World Cup since 1966 is likely to centre around the City playmaker.

His club teammate Jack Grealish is the only member of the current squad who could hope to challenge him, but the Man City star will be 30 by the time the next World Cup gets going.

Centre forward: Harry Kane

One of the most pressing issues for England before the next World Cup will be finding an heir to Kane.

Kane levelled Wayne Rooney's international goal tally in the defeat to France but missed the opportunity to become England's all-time top goalscorer from the penalty spot.

The Spurs man is sure to surpass that milestone in the near future but his long-term international future will depend on his ability to stay fit.

Without an obvious successor to his number nine shirt, Kane is likely to remain an important part of England's World Cup hopes in four years time.

Roma striker Tammy Abraham narrowly missed out ona place in Qatar after an unfortunate mid-season dip in form but the ex-Chelsea marksman is the most likely cadidate to push Kane for a starting berth in North America. 

Right forward: Bukayo Saka

Few countries can claim to be as stacked when it comes to forward options as England, and that is unlikely to change over the next three-and-a-half years.

One of the many individual success stories from England's stay in Qatar, Saka exorcised his Euro 2020 final demons to underline his status as one this country's most exciting talents.

There is a chance that Saka will be starting at his fourth major tournament before his 25th birthday in 2026, with the Arsenal man still not even close to hitting what is likely to be his best level.

Marcus Rashford will still be under 30 while his United teammate Jadon Sancho will hope he can regain some form under Erik ten Hag and force his way back into the reckoning over the next few years.

Brazil were winners in 1994, the last time a World Cup was held on North American soil

When is the 2026 World Cup?

The 2026 World Cup will return to the traditional dates of June to July after Qatar 2022 was scheduled for the winter to avoid the scorching summer heat in Arabia. 

The opening match will take place on June 8 and the final will be on July 3 while kick-off times will be decided once the groups have been draw with four different time zones involved in the competition across Canada, Mexico and USA.

What is the format for the 2026 World Cup?

For the first time in the competition's history, the 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams as it's expanded by 16 teams from the 32 nations who took part in Qatar 2022.

The initial plan was to see all 48 teams divided into 16 groups of 3, with each team playing two matches and the top two in each group advancing to the Round of 32.

That 16-group format would have meant 80 total matches in the tournament but it would have meant two sides playing out the final match with one left watching on - creating an opportunity for collaboration.

However FIFA have reportedly decided to revisit the 16-group plan with FIFA's head of global football, former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, suggesting they won't go ahead with the original plan.