FIFA approves the 2026 World Cup format with a record 104 matches.
Reuters || Shining BD
Due to the expanded format with 48 teams participating, the 2026 World Cup will have 104 matches rather than the customary 64 games, the world's football governing body FIFA announced on Tuesday ahead of its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.
The quadrennial competition will feature 48 teams for the first time in its 2026 edition, which the US, Canada, and Mexico will jointly host. On July 19, the final will take place.
The proposed 16 groups of three teams were rejected due to concerns over possible collusion in the final group game, so the new format will continue to place four teams in each group. The number of groups will rise from eight to twelve, though.
The FIFA council decided to increase the number of games from 80 to 104 during a meeting on Tuesday. This change was made from the original plan for the 2026 edition, which called for a total of 80 matches.
The top two teams from each group traditionally advance to the round of 16, but for the 2026 edition, the eight best third-place teams will also advance to the round of 32 knockout teams.
According to FIFA, the proposed change to the competition format for the FIFA World Cup 2026 was unanimously approved by the FIFA Council.
"The revised format provides balanced rest time between competing teams, minimises the risk of collusion, and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches."
In total, 64 matches from the 32-team World Cup in Qatar last year were played over the course of 29 days. There were only 24 teams present when the World Cup was last hosted by Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994).
Since the 1998 tournament, there have been 32 teams, eight groups of four teams, and seven games played by each finalist. Teams competing in the summit match in 2026, however, will now play a total of eight games.
A 32-team Club World Cup will be held every four years beginning in June 2025, FIFA announced, reiterating the president's announcement from last year's Club World Cup in Qatar.
Chelsea and Real Madrid have already qualified for the new Club World Cup because they were confederation champions from 2021 to 2024.
A club ranking formula based on sporting standards will be used to determine which other team will qualify if either club wins the Champions League once more.
A new yearly club competition will be sanctioned from 2024, replacing the current FIFA Club World Cup, an annual competition with seven teams, which will be discontinued after 2023.
The winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of the intercontinental play-offs between the other confederations will face each other in the competition's championship match, according to FIFA, which will take place at a neutral site.
According to FIFA, clubs must release players for the World Cup starting on May 25, 2026, unless they are participating in a significant final, like the Champions League championship game, in which case clubs have until May 30 to permit players to join their national teams.
The total number of rest, release, and tournament days, 56, is the same as it was for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, and 2018 FIFA World Cup, according to FIFA.
A newly designed international schedule with nine-day windows for two games each in March and June, a 16-day window for four matches in September-October, and a final nine-day window for two games in November was also approved.
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The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), whose CEO Maheta Molango stated that the football calendar needs a "complete reset," expressed concern about "physical fatigue and mental burnout" as a result of the hectic schedule.
Adding more games to an already jam-packed schedule is what the expanded World Cup format announced for 2026 means, he said.
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However, Molango continued, "it's very challenging to see how that aligns with the constant expansion of the domestic and international calendar.
"We know that the current workload players face is having an ongoing impact on their wellbeing... We can't simply push them until they break."