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Santástico – Ep 13: 2026 World Cup special

DISCLAIMER: This post is a special post about the 2026 World Cup. If you’re not into FM20 international management, perhaps this isn’t for you. I don’t blame you if you don’t. I can’t say that I enjoy the international management aspect of FM20 that much myself. The reason I accepted the Brazil job a little more than a year ago was that it gave me an excellent opportunity to give international experience to certain (my own) players while boosting their international reputation in the process. There is one exception though, and that’s the World Cup! I genuinely enjoy the whole thing; the preparation ahead of the tournament, the squad selection process and the actual tournament itself. I guess it brings back sweet childhood memories of former World Cup and gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, which suits a roleplaying sucker like me! It’s also the perfect stage to create lagends, which certainly suits the narrative of this series!

The 2026 World Cup

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A little more than a year after me becoming the Brazil manager it’s time for the World Cup in USA/Canada/Mexico, a splendid chance for me to help my players write history! My aim is of course to win the World Cup and create immortal Brazilian legends in the process. I also want to do it with as many current and former Santos players as possible. Brazil are reigning champions and the people demand nothing less than me bringing the trophy back home again!

Early preparation

We got handed a group consisting of 15th ranked Switzerland and 36th ranked Algeria. From 2026 there are only three teams in each group, but instead there are 16 groups. Top two teams from each group reach the first knockout stage, which I’m 100% certain that we’ll do. We won’t leave anything to chance though and I planned five friendlies ahead of the tournament. I wanted teams of high quality with similar playing styles as our group stage opponents to prepare us in the best way possible.

Two friendlies were played in March, against France and Austria (to prepare for the Switzerland game), which gave me a chance to test players I was still uncertain of.

2nd ranked France were beaten quite easily and 49th ranked Austria didn’t pose any threat whatsoever, with only one shot on goal. With goals from pretty much all the attacking players I was uncertain of, the final squad selection was made harder, not easier, but this is still a pleasant decision. To choose between world class quality or world class quality…

The squad

After an agonizing couple of weeks with some really tough decisions I finally landed on a squad selection.

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It’s a good mix of old and new, with three players with 100+ caps and seven players with less than ten caps. It’s a bit heavy on attacking players, but this is Brazil, right? We’re not here to 0-0 our way to the final.

The squad holds five current and five former Santos players, which is perhaps one too few. My centre back Vinicius became really pissed off as I cut him, when going from a 30 man squad to a 23 man squad. He was the last player to go, as I opted to go for the experience and attacking power of veteran Bobby Firmino instead.

Goalkeepers

This decision was pretty straight forward. We have two world class goalkeepers and they pretty much selected themselves. Third choice was a fairly easy one as well, with young Leonardo Vinicius looking like the natural heir to the goalkeeping throne. Behind him it doesn’t look too good, which makes me believe that he’ll be the Brazil no1 for many years to come when Alisson and Ederson end their careers. This time around he’s just in it for the experience though

Defenders

When it comes to defenders, I might have selected one too few. We have an experienced centre back line up in Luiz Felipe, Marquinhos and Lyanco and we could. Not spectacular, but if there’s one role that don’t need spectacular it’s the centre back. we have four wing backs in experienced Eder Militão and Renan Lodi combined with young-ish Edegar and Elton.

Central midfielders

Not a lot to say about this either. Two current Santos midfielders in Arthur and Lucas Lourenco and one former Santos man in Sandry, currently at Barcelona. Bruno Guimarães makes the group complete. Lucas Lourenco can also play in a more advanced AM role, while the others are pure central midfielders.

Attacker

This is the bag where we’ve put most of our eggs, so to speak. Two veterans, even though way past their prime, in Roberto Firmino and Neymar get a chance to win one more World Cup. Matheus Cunha and Rodrygo are at their prime and the other five are still considered talents. Perhaps one of them will emerge as the next big thing during this World Cup!? I might have selected one too many attackers, but this is Brazil, right? Attacking is what it’s all about!

I’m very happy with the squad, both when it comes to quality and depth, and I think that we will be a serious title contender.

Final preparations

We played three more friendlies in the weeks leading up to the tournament, again with the aim to find opponents as similar as possible to our group stage opponents.

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We beat Germany in a tight game and then followed it up by beating Zambia and then Senegal in two real strolls in the park. I feel that we are sufficiently prepared for the tournament and every player is fit to play. Let’s bring that gold back to Brazil!

The group stage

The group stage games were exactly as exciting as the friendlies; not at all. Neither Switzerland nor Algeria stood a chance, which was pretty much expected. Rodrygo put on a hattrick show in the first game, where we started our best XI, and “the reserves” showed that they wanted to be starters, in a quality display against Algeria.

After a group stage that felt more like a formality it was crunch time! With the new tournament format a massive 32 teams qualified for the first knockout rounds. We drew Jamaica, which felt manageable to say the least.

The knockout stage

Round of 32 vs Jamaica

Both the media and the Brazilian people were certain that this game would play out in the same fashion as the group stage games, but it started in the worst possible fashion with a straight red card for right back Élton after 57 seconds. 57 FUCKING SECONDS! Ok, perhaps this won’t be that easy after all…I dropped Gilberto to a wing back role, covering the entire right wing on his own. Perhaps a bit much to chew for a youngster, but if you want to become a legend you must slay a dragon or two along the way. It’s your time to shine Gilberto!

After a drab first 45 minutes where we were the better team, but not by that much, the Brazilian nation were starting to get a bit nervous in front of their televisions. After a direct freekick goal in the 46th minute from the right foot of Neymar a collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the land.

In all honesty not a lot happened after the goal. Jamaica didn’t have a single shot on goal in the second half despite playing 11v10. Brazil won 1-0, but it was not the show that anyone had expected. At least we’re through to the next round though!

Quite a few surprises here. Holland sent home by Turkey, Argentina by USA and Spain by Mexico.

In the 3rd round things all of a sudden get one hell of a lot harder. If you divide the remaining 16 team into “fours”, where each four will provide one semi final team, our four is by far the toughest one.

1st four: Belgium (ranked 5th), Croatia (11th), Cameroon (14th) or Turkey (23rd) will play the winner of the 2nd four: England (6th), Portugal (9th) Serbia (12th) or Chile (27th)

3rd four: Mexico (8th), Uruguay (16th), USA (17th) or Poland (21st) will play the winner of our four: France (2nd), Germany (4th), Brazil (1st) or Italy (10th). The only team missing here to make it worse would be 3rd ranked Argentina, who were surprisingly knocked out in the first knockout round by USA.

I’m going out on a limb by saying that the team that “wins our four” and reaches the semi final will also win the entire world cup!

Round of 16 vs Italy

This game started off in the same awful fashion as the last one, this time with a goal from Italy in the 2nd minute of the game. After this goal though, there was pretty much only one team on the pitch. After a 20 minute turnaround we controlled everything and could have been up by three or four goals. We looked absolutely invincible! Until the 87th minute that is, when Italy equalised out of the blue. This was both unfair and surprising, but we didn’t have to grieve for long. With goals in the 91st and 95th minute we’re through to the quarter final!

Turkey continue to cause upsets by knocking out Belgium.

Quarter Final vs France

The quarter final can be describerd in two words, Joga Bonito! This is why we’re ranked as the best team in the world, France didn’t stand a chance! The first goal of the game was a proper Santos collaboration with Neymar feeding Edegar the ball out on the left. Edegar’s long cross was met with a perfect Renyer volley to make it 1-0 for Brazil. Things just continued on from there with Ginga and Samba and call it what you like. The French just stood there with their baguettes hanging. A 92nd minute French goal made the scoreline 3-1 but it was too little too late for them. A comfortable victory saw Brazil advance to the semi finals! It’s coming home!

Turkey, in spectacular form, reach the semi final!

Semi Final vs Mexico

After beating France to win “our four” the road to the trophy laid open for us and since I didn’t rate Mexico that highly I went with the pretty risky tactics to completely rotate the squad for the semi final, with the final in mind. These delusions of grandeur, perfectly in line with the Brazilian view of being the sun the rest of the footballing world revolves around, proved to be my fall. These delusions along with a bit of South American temper.

In a gung ho affair our reserve eleven went into half time with a 3-2 lead but also with ten men on the pitch after a 45th minute Marquinhos second yellow card. After letting in a third goal in a poor second half the match ended 3-3. Extra time came and went, as uneventful as it was disappointing. The game went to penalties where Mexico put them all away while we missed one. Absolutely gutted to miss out on the final. Media blamed me for selecting a poor starting eleven, but that’s only half the truth. First of all, would have won the game without the sending off, we were that dominant. Secondly, if I had selected a stronger starting eleven we would have needed to play the reserves in the final. I took a gamble and lost, it’s as simple as that.

Third place playoff

So, instead of a glorious final game, we got stuck with the game that noone wants to play. Roberto Firmino finished off his last game for Brazil ever with a MoM performance with one goal and one assist in the comfortable 3-0 win over Turkey. We won a bronze, but I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t make it all the way. England won the final, so I guess football is coming home, not just to the right home…

Our World Cup exit also marks the end of an era. Several players will step down from international football, either by their own choice or mine. Since the Brazilian FA decided to let me keep the job, I’m starting a rebuild with the aim of taking back the World Cup title in 2030. Therefore all players that will be too old to participate in that tournament will be dropped from the squad straight away, in order to make room for younger players. Sadly none of our players really stood out during this tournament, with the possible exception of Rodrygo’s opening game hattrick, but several of the older players performed below par. This includes Neymar, but perhaps the next version of the national team will see the birth of the “Next Neymar”!? The only way to find out is to keep reading! I’ll be back soon with a summary of the rest of the 2026 season. See you then!

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