New format for 2026 World Cup, 104 matches to be played

Sports Wednesday 15/March/2023 18:52 PM
By: Times news service
New format for 2026 World Cup, 104 matches to be played

KIGALI: FIFA, the world football governing body, on Tuesday announced that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will have a record 104 matches. 

FIFA switched the format for the expanded 2026 World Cup back to four-team groups. The competition in the United States, Mexico and Canada was due to feature 16 groups of three because the number of teams is increasing from 32 to 48. 

But the success of the four-team format at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar caused the governing body to reconsider. FIFA said the top two and eight best third-placed teams would progress to the last 32.

The decision was taken at the 73rd FIFA Council in Kigali, Rwanda, on Tuesday. Last year’s World Cup in Qatar featured 64 games, with Argentina lifting the trophy after defeating France in the final on penalties.

Since 1998, all editions of the FIFA World Cup had 32 teams with eight groups of four. Initially, the plan was to hold 80 matches for the 2026 World Cup before FIFA decided to increase it to 104. “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.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in December that the governing body was considering a format change after the group stages in Qatar included some exciting final games.

The new round-of-32 stage means teams will have to play eight matches to win the tournament, compared to seven at the 2022 World Cup.

The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be the first edition to be held in three countries. Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986 while the United States staged the World Cup in 1994. Both the editions had 24 teams. FIFA approved a men’s international match calendar from 2025-2030 and said that “based on the new calendar, the FIFA World Cup 2026 final will be played on Sunday, 19 July 2026”. It added that the “mandatory” date for which clubs must release players for the tournament will start “on 25 May 2026, following the last official club match on 24 May 2026” and that “exemptions may apply to the final matches of confederation club competitions until 30 May 2026 subject to FIFA approval”.

The women’s international match calendar keeps its six international windows per year and includes the women’s Olympic football tournament, which will take place from 25 July o 10 August 2024.

FIFA also approved the access list for the 32- team FIFA Club World Cup, which will take place every four years from June 2025.

Teams who win their confederation’s top tournament in “the four-year period of the seasons ending in 2021 and 2024” will qualify where they have enough places. Europe has 12 places in the new tournament and Chelsea and Real Madrid, who won the Champions League in 2021 and 2022 respectively, have already secured their spots. The other qualifying teams from each continent will be determined “by a club ranking based on the same four-year period”. There will be a cap of two clubs per country with the exception being if more than two teams from the same country win their confederation’s premier tournament over the qualification period.

FIFA also wants to keep a yearly club competition and this will be “between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of intercontinental play-offs between the other confederations”.