OFFICIAL: FIFA Council Approves The New Format Of The 2026 World Cup Tournament.

FIFA has switched the format for the expanded 2026 World Cup back to four-team groups.

The 2026 World Cup is heading back to North America for the fourth time in history, as it would be hosted in 16 cities across three North American countries; Canada, Mexico and the United States. 

Mexico hosted the competition in 1970 and 1986, while the United States of America hosted it in 1994. So, they are about to host it again.

The 2026 edition was already going to be the biggest World Cup, with the number of participating teams increasing from 32 to 48, and will now be the longest, too.

It will feature a record 104 games, including a new last-32 stage, after the World football governing body (FIFA) scrapped its controversial plans for 16 groups of three teams.

The nail-biting finish to the group stage in Qatar last year, and with officials concerned about a situation in which three-team groups could be manipulated and teams would be eliminated after only two games, FIFA reconsidered their plans.

The four-team group format, with the top two going through to the knockout stages, has been used since the men's World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998.

The now extended 48-team tournament will run for 38 or 39 days over almost 40 days in three countries, instead of the 32 days in Qatar, meaning that there will be 40 more matches than were played at Qatar 2022.

It will consist of 12 groups of four teams each, with the top two and the eight best third-placed sides progressing to the new round-of-32 knockout stage. The eventual champion and the runner-up, as well as the third- and fourth-placed teams, will each play eight games instead of the current seven.

Argentina are the current World champions.

The new format was approved on Tuesday at a meeting of the 36-member governing council of FIFA, which typically rubber-stamps proposals agreed upon by the six regional heads, with the organizer of the World Cup in Rwanda's capital Kigali.

The heads of football’s six confederations had reportedly met with FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, on Monday night, and none raised any objection to the proposed format.

"The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams," said world football's governing body.

The original idea was to have 16 groups of three, with the top two processing to a 32-team knockout competition. That format would have involved 80 games, but the new format has extended the competition from its projected 80 matches to 104.

Apparently, ever since 1998, the World Cup has always had 32 teams, featuring 64-games over 32 days. 

What this change means for the allocation of games between the three host nations remains to be seen, as the US was staging 60 games in the original format, with Canada and Mexico getting 10 each.

As a result of the change, there’s going to be less international break, preparing for the tournament in 2026. Players will be released early by their clubs to their national teams following the last official club match on 24 May 2026.

Fifa approved a men's match calendar from 2025-2030 and said that "based on the new calendar, the 2026 World Cup final will be played on Sunday, 19 July 2026."

“I think it’s a good idea,” Victor Montagliani, a FIFA vice president and head of football in North America, told reporters after the meeting.

Montagliani said the tournament would be extended by up to seven days to accommodate the extra games.

He added that the idea to change the format was crystallized after the Qatar World Cup, which featured several nail-biting finishes in the group stage. Final games were played simultaneously to ensure no single team could benefit from knowing the outcome of a rival’s game.

In addition, FIFA also made other tournament decisions at the meeting.

A new annual tournament for clubs is to be created for the winners of regional championships after FIFA announced that it agreed to a new 32-team World Cup for clubs, a quadrennial event with the first edition from June/July 2025. That tournament, for which FIFA has yet to name a host, will see teams divided into eight groups of four teams, with the top two teams in each group advancing to a single-elimination event, a mirror image of the format used for the World Cup in Qatar.

It is unclear where FIFA will find extra space in the calendar for the 64-game Club World Cup, which will run longer than the Confederations Cup, a largely unloved national team competition scrapped after the last edition was played in Russia in 2017.

Meanwhile, Morocco have reportedly replaced Ukraine in the joint bid for the 2030 World Cup with Spain and Portugal!

Number of Continents participants in World Cup 2026?

AFC (Asia) – 8

CAF (Africa) – 9

CONCACAF (North America, Central America, Caribbean) – 3

CONMEBOL (South America) – 6

OFC (Oceania) – 1

UEFA (Europe) – 16

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