Expanded 2026 World Cup to feature 48 teams and new last-32 stage

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The 2026 World Cup will feature 12 four-team groups and a last-32 knockout round for the first time.

The format for the 48-team tournament, to be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, was approved at a meeting of the FIFA Council in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday.

The game’s global governing body ditched plans for 16 three-team groups, having acknowledged the “risk of collusion” in that format and also having been persuaded to stick with four-team groups after the drama that unfolded at the end of the group phase at the last World Cup in Qatar, which was the last tournament to feature 32 teams.

Winners and runners-up in each of the 12 four-team groups will advance to a new round of 32, where they will be joined by the eight best third-placed teams. In all, the new format will involve 104 matches being played.


Chelsea and Real Madrid have secured places at FIFA’s new-look, 32-team Club World Cup in 2025 after that competition’s access list was also approved by the Council.

Europe has 12 spots in the new tournament, with the first four going to the Champions League winners in each of the four years leading up to 2025. Chelsea were European champions in 2021, with Real victorious last year.

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