The FIFA Council revised the 2026 World Cup group stage structure to 12 groups of four teams from 16 groups of three on Tuesday, bringing the total number of matches up to 104 from 64 in the 2022 tournament in Qatar. To win a World Cup, a nation must play eight games, up from the seven required since 1974.
A fresh set of 32 teams will begin the knockout stage, with the top two teams in each group and the top eight third-place teams moving on. As the tournament went from 24 to 32 teams in 1998, third-place teams were no longer eligible for advancement.
New FIFA World Cup Format: Explained
The new format will result in 104 matches, up from 80 in the original 2026 plan and double the 52 games at the FIFA World Cup held in the United States in 1994. It will also increase over the 64 matches played at each tournament from 1998 through 2022. More tickets to sell and more content for television broadcasters to provide translates to more money for FIFA.
When the World Cup was expanded from 32 to 48 nations starting in 2026, the Council adopted the original format in January 2017. The event will be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The group's last day would have included two teams competing while one rested, which could have encouraged corruption.
The Disgrace of Gijón at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain, where West Germany and Austria knew that a one- or two-goal win by the Germans would advance both nations at the expense of Algeria, which played a day earlier, led to the adoption of the current schedule, which has all teams in a group kick off simultaneously on the final day. West Germany prevailed 1-0 as Horst Hrubesch scored in the tenth minute with no further threats from either team.
FIFA announced the July 19 date for the championship. The location has not yet been chosen, but the three front-runners are East Rutherford, New Jersey; Arlington, Texas; and Inglewood, California.
The tournament's duration, which is anticipated to run between 38 and 42 days, has not been stated. This is an increase from 32 for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and 29 for the competition held in Qatar last year. The 1994 competition took place between June 17 and July 17.
Per FIFA's announcement, their clubs must make players available to national teams by May 25. This is the day after the league's last pre-World Cup games. But, subject to FIFA sanction, regional finals like the Champions League may continue till May 30. After the release date, there is a period of rest during which national team friendlies are not permitted, but training is allowed. According to FIFA, the 56 days of rest, release, and tournament were the same for the FIFA World Cups in 2010, 2014, and 2018.