FIFA changed the World Cup group stage format for 2026 to 12 groups of four teams from 16 groups of three teams. FIFA’s Council announced this on Tuesday increasing the total to 104 matches from 64 in the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
To win a World Cup, a nation will have to play eight games, up from the seven in place since 1974.
The top two teams in each group and the top eight third-place teams will advance to a new round of 32. Which is the knockout round. When the competition went from 24 teams to 32 teams in 1998, third-place teams were no longer eligible for advancement.
The change means there will be 104 matches. Up from 80 in the initial 2026 format and double the 52 matches at the World Cup held in the United States in 1994. It will also be an increase from the 64 matches played at each tournament from 1998 through 2022. More tickets to sell and more material for television broadcasters to produce translates to more money for FIFA.
WHY THE CHANGE
The Council approved the initial format for the 2026 competition in the United States, Mexico, and Canada in January 2017. As the World Cup expanded from 32 nations to 48 starting in 2026. The group’s finishing day would have featured two teams competing while one team rested, which could have encouraged corruption. The current schedule of having all teams in a group kick off simultaneously on the final day. This was adopted after the Disgrace of Gijón at the 1982 World Cup in Spain when West Germany and Austria knew that a one- or two-goal win by the Germans would advance both nations at the expense of Algeria, which played a day earlier. West Germany prevailed 1-0 after Horst Hrubesch scored in the tenth minute with no further threats from either side.
FIFA announced the final will be on July 19. The site has not yet been announced, with East Rutherford, New Jersey; Arlington, Texas; and Inglewood, California, the three leading contenders.
No length has been specified for the tournament. which is likely to be between 38 and 42 days. That is up from 29 for last year’s tournament in Qatar and 32 for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The 1994 tournament was held from June 17 to July 17.
IMPACT ON PLAYERS AND CLUBS
FIFA announced the mandatory release date for players. They must available to national teams by their clubs will be May 25, a day after leagues must play their final pre-World Cup matches.