FIFA approves new, expanded format for 2026 World Cup

FIFA approves new, expanded format for 2026 World Cup

March 14, 2023

Azteca Stadium, one of the host venues for the 2026 World Cup, in Mexico City. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

The 2026 FIFA World Cup will look quite different compared to last year's tournament — and not only because it will be played in the summer again.

Driving the news: FIFA, the governing body of soccer, on Tuesday approved a new, expanded format for the men's World Cup, which will include 48 teams playing a total of 104 games.

  • The tournament will have 12 groups of four teams. The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stage, along with the eight best third-place teams, FIFA said.
  • The World Cup final match will be played on July 19, FIFA said.

By the numbers: The new format adds 16 teams and 40 games to the previous World Cup schedule.

  • Teams will have to play eight games total instead of seven to reach the final match.

Worth noting: At one point, FIFA considered 16 groups of three teams, with the top two teams going through to the next round, ESPN reports.

  • "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 on Tuesday.

Why it matters: This means more soccer for fans, but new headaches for event organizers, who will have to clear more dates at the venues for games, according to the New York Times.

  • Stadium officials are already juggling schedules for summertime sports, concerts and other events.
  • Some players’ unions and clubs may be concerned that their players have to play more games, per the NYT. The year-round soccer schedule is already jam-packed, which can lead to injuries.

Zoom out: The 2026 World Cup will be hosted by North America, with games to be played in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

  • FIFA has already announced the 2026 World Cup match sites, which include cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Mexico City and Toronto.
  • The 2026 format was expected to have 60 matches in the United States, with Mexico and Canada hosting 10 each (80 games total).

Go deeper: FIFA picks World Cup 2026 venues for U.S., Canada, Mexico

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