2026 World Cup Will Have Four-Team Groups and 24 More Games

Soccer’s 2026 World Cup in North America, already the largest and the longest in the tournament’s history because of an expansion of the field, is set to grow even more as FIFA leaders were poised to agree to a change in format that will add 24 more games.

The change will result in a marathon soccer championship — 48 teams playing 104 games over as much as 40 days in three countries — and see the champion and the runner-up each play eight games instead of the current seven.

The format is set to be approved on Tuesday after a meeting of the governing council of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body and the organizer of the World Cup. It was confirmed by multiple people familiar with the most recent discussions, none of whom would be quoted by name because the change has not been confirmed or announced.

The 2026 tournament — co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada — will be the first World Cup with 48 teams, expanded from the current 32-nation competition that had been in place since 1998. Early discussions had centered around splitting the teams into 16 groups of three. But after the nail-biting finish to the group stage in Qatar last year, and with officials concerned about a situation where three-team groups could be manipulated or teams could be eliminated after only two games, FIFA revisited the issue.

The heads of soccer’s six confederations met with FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino on Monday night and none raised any objection to the proposed plan, according to the people familiar with the meeting. A formal confirmation of the new plan is expected later on Tuesday, after a meeting of FIFA’s 36-member governing council that is expected to similarly green-light the changes.

Adding extra games also will add extra days, producing a tournament that could run for more than 40 days. Such a duration is likely to anger players unions and clubs already concerned about the heavy workload imposed on the game’s top stars.

The North American World Cup is the first version of the men’s tournament to have been awarded since Infantino became FIFA president in 2016. While the expansion has been celebrated by many of the governing body’s smaller member nations for the expanded opportunities to qualify it will provide and the billions of dollars in added revenue it will produce, many fans and commentators have described the move as diminishing the quality of the event.

Infantino has predicted the 2026 World Cup is going to generate a record-breaking payday; FIFA has budgeted for revenues of $11 billion in the four-year cycle to 2026, almost $4 billion more than it earned during the same period through to the Qatar World Cup.

A spokesman for FIFA did not comment on the proposed format for 2026.

Victor Montagliani, the head of the confederation for North America, recently suggested that there could be changes to the format, telling a conference hosted by the Financial Times earlier this month that the issue was up for debate.

Montagliani questioned if it is “right that you qualify for a World Cup and a third of teams go home after two games?”

But he also conceded that the changes would not be without repercussions on soccer’s already tight global calendar.

“We do have to be responsible,” he said. “There was a footprint of days for 2014 and 2018 and we can’t go over that. We can’t have a three-month World Cup.”

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