Expanded 2026 World Cup to feature 4-team groups, 104 total matches
The expanded 2026 World Cup will feature 12 four-team groups and 104 games in total, FIFA announced Tuesday.
The governing body formally approved the revised format for the supersized event during a council meeting Tuesday in Kigali, Rwanda. The tournament, co-hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, will be the largest World Cup in history with its expansion from 32 to 48 participating nations.
The entire 2026 event will span 56 days between “rest, release, and tournament days,” FIFA said. The final will be held on July 19, 2026.
Play itself is expected to take place over 39 days, report Matt Slater and David Ornstein of The Athletic, which would make the 2026 World Cup the longest ever.
To facilitate the inclusion of extra games without making sweeping alterations to the schedule, FIFA will reduce the pre-tournament preparation period from 23 to 16 days, according to Slater and Ornstein.
FIFA initially planned to use 16 three-team groups in 2026, with the top two nations from each section advancing to a 32-team knockout round. Under that format, the tournament would’ve featured 80 matches in total. The men’s World Cup has been a 64-game tournament since 1998.
But concerns over that plan, initially green-lit in 2017, forced FIFA to rethink its approach, particularly after the final set of matches in the existing four-team group format at the recent edition in Qatar generated consistent drama and excitement.
Using groups consisting of just three teams would have eliminated the simultaneous group finales, a popular World Cup feature, and would create an opportunity for two teams to collude if they both needed a specific result in their last group match, just as West Germany and Austria did in the infamous 1982 match dubbed the “Disgrace of Gijon.”
“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,” FIFA said of its decision to alter the format.
With 48 teams split into quartets, the eight best third-place finishers will join the top two teams from each group in the 32-team knockout stage.
It’s unclear how the allocation of matches between the three host countries will be adjusted; the United States was set to stage 60 games under the previous format, with Canada and Mexico handed 10 each.