FIFA to approve 2026 World Cup format: how many games, how long will it last?

At a FIFA Council meeting held today in Kigali, Rwanda, football chiefs are set to agree on the format for the 2026 World Cup, the first edition of the tournament that will feature 48 teams, up from 32.

FIFA maintains the four-team group stage of the 104-match World Cup

In the end, FIFA is understood to have opted for the more aggressive expansion option on the table, increasing the number of matches from 64 to 104, and the revamped tournament is now set to last 39 days.

Initially, football’s governing body considered switching to groups of three in the first round – a format that would have led to an 80-match World Cup.

However, FIFA was aware of the potential excitement presented by the latest round of matches in groups of four. In the three-team divisions, there will be a higher probability of two nations settling on a result in favor of both, at the expense of the third team in the group.

As a result, the round-robin stage will remain the same, but will feature 12 groups instead of eight.

The 2026 World Cup will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, with the tournament returning to dates that coincide with the Northern Hemisphere summer.

The group stage has been decided to be divided into zones

As it is the first World Cup to be held in three countries – and given the size of the host nations – FIFA is looking into separating the group stage into different geographical areas.

For example, countries playing games on the West Coast of the United States will not be required to travel to another region unless they qualify for the knockout stages. Once the tournament reaches its final stages, teams will then have to cover greater distances.

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