FIFA confirms new format for 2026 World Cup with 48 teams and 104 matches

Tata

Mar 15, 2023

​FIFA has announced that the 2026 World Cup will feature 104 matches instead of the usual 64 games due to its expanded format. The world’s football governing body said ahead of its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.

The 2026 edition, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will expand from 32 to 48 teams. In addition, the initially proposed plan to draw three teams each in a total of 16 groups was discarded due to concerns over possible collusion in the final group game, therefore the new format will continue to have four teams in each group but the number of groups will increase from 8 to 12.

The FIFA council reached a decision to increase the number of games from 80 to 104 during a meeting on Tuesday. The original plan for the 2026 edition was for a total of 80 matches.

In previous editions, the top two teams from each group have advanced to the round of 16, but in 2026, the eight best third-place teams will also move on to the knockout round of 32.

As a result, the winners as well as the teams that finish third and fourth will play a total of eight games instead of the current seven.

“The Fifa Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the Fifa World Cup 2026 competition format” Fifa said. “The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches while providing balanced rest time between competing teams.”

During last year’s World Cup in Qatar, where 32 teams competed, a total of 64 matches were played in the course of 29 days.

The last time either Mexico (in 1986) or the United States (in 1994) hosted a World Cup, there were only 24 teams.

Updated tournament and Calendar structures

FIFA also said that starting in June 2025, a 32-team Club World Cup will be held every four years, reiterating the announcement made by FIFA President Gianni Infantino last year.

Confederation champions from 2021-2024 will be eligible to play in the new Club World Cup, which means Chelsea and Real Madrid, Palmeiras, Flamengo and Seattle Sounders have already qualified.

The seven-team Fifa Club World Cup will no longer be played annually after 2023. Instead, a new club competition will begin in 2024.

“This competition will feature the champions of the premier club competitions of all confederations and conclude with a final to be played at a neutral venue, between the winner of the Uefa Champions League and the winner of intercontinental play-offs between the other confederations,” Fifa said.

A newly structured international calendar was also approved. Starting from 2026, there will be a 16-day, four-match international window in September and early October, as well as nine-day, two-match windows in March, June and November.

Reaction on “overcrowded schedule”

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said they were worried about “physical fatigue and mental burnout” due to the congested schedule with its CEO Maheta Molango saying the football calendar needs a “complete reset”.

“The expanded World Cup format being announced for 2026 means that, yet again, more games are being forced into an already overcrowded schedule,” he said.

“We know that the current workload players face is having an ongoing impact on their wellbeing… We can’t simply push them until they break.”

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