The 2026 World Cup will have 104 matches instead of the traditional 64 games due to the expanded format involving 48 teams, world soccer governing body FIFA said on Tuesday ahead of its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.
The 2026 edition, which will be co-sponsored by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will be the first edition of the quadrennial tournament in which 48 teams will participate. The final will be played on July 19.
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The new format will also stick to drawing four teams in a group after a proposal for a three-team group was rejected for fears of collusion. However, the number of groups will increase from eight to 12.
The original plan for the 2026 edition called for a total of 80 games, but the decision to increase the number of games to 104 was approved by the FIFA council at a meeting on Tuesday.
Traditionally, the top two teams from each group advance to the last 16, but the 2026 edition will also see the eight best third-placed teams advance to the knockout round of 32.
“The FIFA Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the competition format of the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” FIFA said.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all teams play a minimum of three games, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams.”
The 32-team World Cup in Qatar last year had a total of 64 matches completed in 29 days. The last time Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994) hosted a World Cup, there were only 24 teams.
The tournament has featured 32 teams since the 1998 edition, with eight groups of four and the finalists playing seven matches each. But the teams that reach the pinnacle game in 2026 will now play eight games in total.
FIFA said clubs will have to release players for the World Cup starting May 25, 2026, unless they are in a major final, such as the Champions League final, for which clubs will have until May 30 to allow players to join their national team. equipment
“At 56 days, the combined total number of rest, release and tournament days remains identical to that of the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions of the FIFA World Cup,” FIFA added.
Also on Tuesday, FIFA said a 32-team Club World Cup would be played every four years starting in June 2025, confirming an announcement made by FIFA president Gianni Infantino in Qatar last year.
The 2021-2024 Confederation champions will be eligible to play in the Club World Cup, meaning Chelsea and Real Madrid have already qualified.
If either club wins the Champions League again, a club ranking calculation based on sporting criteria will be used to determine which other team will qualify.
The current version of the FIFA Club World Cup, an annual competition with seven teams, will be discontinued after 2023 and a new annual club competition will be approved starting in 2024.
“This competition will feature the champions of the major club competitions from all confederations and will conclude with a final to be played at a neutral venue, between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of the intercontinental playoffs between the other confederations.” said FIFA. .
A newly structured international calendar was also approved with nine-day windows in March and June for two games each, a 16-day window for four games in September-October followed by another nine-day window for two games in November.
The news was met with a mixed response from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), which said it was concerned about “physical fatigue and mental exhaustion” due to the congested schedule. PFA chief executive Maheta Molango went so far as to say the football calendar needed a “complete reset”.
“The expanded World Cup format that has been announced for 2026 means that, once again, more games are being forced into an already packed schedule,” Molango said.
The PFA said it was encouraged to see that FIFA had prioritized concerns such as the need for a “minimum of 72 hours between matches, a mandatory day off each week and an annual rest period.”
“However, it is very difficult to see how that aligns with the constant expansion of the national and international calendar,” added Molango.
“We know that the current workload facing players has an ongoing impact on their well-being. We can’t just push them until they crack.”