FIFA to confirm new expanded World Cup format featuring 104 games over 39 days

FIFA is set to confirm a new expanded format for the World Cup which will see an additional 40 matches added to the schedule for the 2026 tournament.

Football’s governing body have been discussing how to add more teams and matches to the World Cup for some time and had initially considered having 16 groups of three teams – though that idea received a massive backlash at last year’s tournament.

In Qatar, some of the World Cup’s most memorable moments occurred in the final group matches which featured a host of permutations and ramifications, but a lot of that jeopardy would have been removed.

It also opened up the possibility of more dead rubbers and potential collusion in the final group matches.

Instead, Sky News are reporting that FIFA will hold a meeting at their annual council – which is being held in Kigali, Rwanda this year – and will confirm a format which keeps the four-team group setup but will introduce an additional round of 32.

FIFA had already confirmed that the tournament would be expanded to include 48 teams – up from 32 in Qatar – and that means the competition will now run for 39 days this time around.

That will make the 2026 tournament, which is being jointly hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico, the longest World Cup ever – nearly a week longer than Qatar.

FIFA, though, believe the ‘footprint’ will remain the same, with the pre-tournament release period cut from 23 days to 16 – this is the time where players and nations warm-up and prepare for the tournament.

Notably, teams were denied any real preparation period before the Qatar World Cup, with some players going from playing for their domestic clubs to playing internationals in the space of a week due to the very tight scheduling required for a winter tournament.

From 2026 onwards, the number of groups will expand from eight to 12 with the top two advancing to a newly introduced round of 32 along with the eight best third-placed teams.

That means the team who eventually wins the trophy will have to play eight games instead of seven, with the overall number of matches expanding from 64 to 104.

The change in format could result in some scheduling issues for the host nations – and perhaps the addition of new venues – with the original plans having been drawn up assuming there would be 80 matches.

They were split with 60 being played in the US and 10 apiece in Canada and Mexico, but there are now another 24 matches that need to be factored in. The final will take place in the US on Sunday 19 July, 2026.

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