The 2026 World Cup format 'set to expand to a four-team group stage'

World Cup is set for HUGE expansion: FIFA prepare to approve plans to have 104 games (up from 64) and 16 more teams, starting at 2026 tournament in the US, Canada and Mexico

  • FIFA are ready to shake up their plans for the 2026 World Cup once again  
  • They had pitched a three-team group stage but are set to revert back to four   
  • It will see 104 games across the tournament in the US, Canada and Mexico 

FIFA are set to announce a huge expansion for the 2026 World Cup – reverting back to a four-team group stage that will see 104 games take place across the tournament. 

The next edition of the Jules Rimet trophy will take place in the United States, Canada and Mexico in four years with 48 teams set to compete for the first time, though there has been much talk about a new format with 16 groups featuring three teams. 

However, FIFA is understood to have been rethinking the proposal in recent months amid fears it could lead to less exciting games. 

Now the Athletic have reported that FIFA will confirm they plan to have four teams in each group, which will lead to a total of 104 games at the tournament, up from 64.

The proposed format would see the World Cup become the longest as well as the biggest to date. 

Football’s governing body will confirm the plans at a FIFA Council meeting on Tuesday in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where chiefs have assembled for their annual congress on Thursday. 

The 2026 World Cup format is set to revert back to a four-team group stage, reports claim

The plans are set to be confirmed at a FIFA Council on Tuesday ahead of the tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Pictured, the MetLife stadium in New York

The new proposals would see 12 groups of four teams each – with the top two progressing to the knockout rounds. The eight best third-placed teams would then join them in the next stage. 

At the recent 2022 World Cup in Qatar, underdog sides like Japan and South Korea advanced to the knockouts, while big names like Germany, Belgium and Uruguay were sent home after missing out on second place by narrow margins. 

But after the success of the Qatar tournament and exciting nature of the dramatic group stage, which featured four teams, FIFA were forced to re-assess their plans, with president Gianni Infantino admitting they would ‘revisit’ the idea.

Infantino said: ‘I have to say that after this World Cup and the success of the groups of four, and looking as well at some other competitions like the Euros for example where you have 24 teams and the top two plus the best third ones go to the next stage. 

‘Here, the groups of four have been absolutely incredible in the sense that until the last minute of the last match, you wouldn’t know who goes through. 

‘We will have to revisit or at least rediscuss the format – whether we go for 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four. This is something that will certainly be on the agenda in the next meetings.’ 

FIFA chief Gianni Infantino previously admitted he would ‘rethink’ idea for three-team groups

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