March 26, 2023

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This will be the 2026 World Cup: 12 groups, playoffs from 3rd place, +40 matches and +11 days

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The image of the future World Cup 2026, which will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, is becoming clearer. New York Times journalist Tariq Panja and The Athletic insiders claim that FIFA has finalized the new format – it will be approved on March 16 at the federation’s congress in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

What’s the format?

We have known for a long time that 48 teams will take part in the 2026 tournament. And here are more advanced details about the device of the World Cup.

• 12 groups of four teams. The first two teams from each four will immediately go to the playoffs, they will be joined by the top eight teams from third places.

• A total of 104 matches will be played, 40 more than the previous format. The deadlines will be extended to 39 days: a tournament of 64 matches usually fit into 31-32 days, the 2022 World Cup was generally rammed into 28. The players’ vacation after the club season will be made 16 days – this is more than before Qatar, but still less than usual in the past tournaments.

In November-December 2022, the main difficulty was to fit the tournament into an unusual slot, now we need an extra week in the summer calendar.

Were there other options?

FIFA has long believed that 32 teams are too few, they were definitely not going to leave everything as it is. But we considered two more formats for the World Cup 2026 device.  

• 16 groups of three teams. It was considered even more preferable, but they refused because of the risk of getting matches in the third round of teams that would be satisfied with the same result – with three teams in the group, the probability is much higher. FIFA thought about penalty shootouts already in the group stage – to reduce the chances of equal points and squeeze the scope for match-fixing. But the risks of doubt outweighed. 

• Two mini-tournaments of 24 teams. It was planned that each group would have six groups with four teams, the playoffs would go according to the Euro formula (the first two places from each group + the four best teams from third places), the winners of the mini-tournaments would meet in the main final. But we still don’t expect this.