Global football governing body FIFA announced on Tuesday after its Council meeting in Kigali that the 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams, with a total of 104 matches to be played, instead of the traditional 64 games. The United States, Canada, and Mexico will co-host the tournament, which will also have 16 groups instead of 12. Despite earlier proposals for a three-team group, the format will still have four teams in each group to avoid collusion. The final match will be held on July 19, and the top two teams from each group will advance, along with the eight best third-placed teams moving into the knockout round of 32. FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed confidence in the new format, citing the dramatic group stage at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as a reason for the change.
Additionally, FIFA confirmed that a 32-team Club World Cup will be held every four years from June 2025, with confederation champions from 2021-2024 eligible to participate. The current version of the FIFA Club World Cup will be discontinued after 2023, and a new yearly club competition will be launched from 2024. Finally, a newly structured international calendar was approved, with specific windows for games each year. Clubs will have to release players for the World Cup from May 25, 2026, unless they are in a major final, for which clubs will have until May 30 to allow players to join their national teams.
The expanded format of the 2026 World Cup is a major development for football fans around the world. The decision to increase the number of teams participating in the tournament from 32 to 48 means that more nations will have the opportunity to compete on the global stage, and it will also make for a more exciting and unpredictable tournament.
However, the decision to keep the four-team group format has been met with some criticism, with concerns about collusion still prevalent. Despite this, FIFA has assured fans that the new format will mitigate the risk of such collusion and provide balanced rest time between competing teams.
The 2026 World Cup will also mark the first time that three nations have co-hosted the tournament, with the United States, Canada, and Mexico sharing the hosting duties. This decision was made in an effort to promote football in North America and to increase the popularity of the sport in the region.
In addition to the expanded World Cup format, FIFA has also approved a new Club World Cup tournament to be held every four years from 2025. This competition will feature the champions of the premier club competitions of all confederations and will culminate in a final to be played at a neutral venue between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of intercontinental play-offs between the other confederations.
Overall, the changes to the international football calendar and the World Cup and Club World Cup formats are significant developments for the sport, and fans around the world are eagerly anticipating the upcoming tournaments.