World football governing body, FIFA has announced it will expand the 2026 men’s World Cup in North America to 12 groups of four teams in a change from the original 8 groups of 4 teams, football’s world governing body FIFA announced on Tuesday, March 14.
The next World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico will be the first to feature 48 teams, a sharp increase from the 32 sides at last year’s tournament in Qatar.
“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 its website.
It means that there will be 104 matches, a huge rise compared to the 64 games played in the 2022 tournament and an increase even on the original plan that the 2026 World Cup would feature 80 matches.
FIFA’s initial plan for 2026 was for 16 groups of three teams, from which the top two countries would advance to the last 32.
The new decided format means the top two in each group will go through to the knockout round along with the eight best third-placed sides.
As a result, the finalists, and the teams finishing third and fourth, will play a total of eight games instead of the current seven.
The decision comes after an entertaining group stage at Qatar 2022 convinced FIFA that a rethink to its original 2026 blueprint was needed.
Tuesday’s decision was announced following a FIFA Council meeting in the Rwandan capital Kigali, at which it confirmed the next men’s World Cup final will be played on Sunday, July 19, 2026.
FIFA said that the total number of days between when clubs must stop playing and release players for international duty, and the final, would be 56, identical to the previous three tournaments.
Nevertheless the World Cup itself may be played over a longer period, after Qatar 2022 was held over just 29 days.
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Expanding the World Cup had been a priority for Infantino following his election in 2016, when he took over from Sepp Blatter at the head of world football.
The number of venues for the 2026 finals will double, from eight stadiums in Qatar last year to 16.
Eleven venues will be in the USA, with three in Mexico and two in Canada.
FIFA also projected a huge increase in revenues in the four-year cycle leading up to 2026, up to $11 billion from $7.5 billion in the four years up to 2022.