The 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams; have a total of 104 matches
The 2026 World Cup will have a record 104 matches, 48 teams
The 2026 World Cup will have 104 fixtures instead of the traditional 64 games due to the expanded format with 48 teams taking part, Fifa said on Tuesday.
The upcoming edition, which will be co hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will be the inaugural edition of the quadrennial tournament in which 48 teams will compete. The final will be played on July 19.
After a proposal for a three team group was shot down over fears of collusion, the new format will now draw four teams in a group. The number of groups will increase from eight to twelve.
According to the original plan, the 2026 edition was supposed to have 80 matches but the decision to increase the number of games to 104 was approved by FIFA’s council at a meeting on Tuesday.
The two teams from each group advance to the last 16 traditionally but the 2026 edition will also feature the eight best third placed teams going through the knockout round of 32.
The FIFA Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the FIFA World Cup 2026 competition format," FIFA said.
"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."
The Qatar World Cup had a total of 32 teams and 64 matches completed in 29 days. The last time Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994) hosted a World Cup with only 24 teams.
Since the 1998 edition, the tournament has had 32 teams, with eight groups of four and the finalists playing seven games each. But teams reaching the final in 2026 will now play eight matches in total.
Fifa said clubs will have to release players for the World Cup from May 25, 2026, unless they are in a major cup final- such as the Champions League- for which clubs will have until May 30 to allow players to join their national squads.
"With 56 days, the total combined number of rest, release and tournament days remain identical to the 2010, 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cup editions," FIFA added.
Fifa also said a 32 team Club World Cup will be played every four years from June 2025, confirming the announcement made by Gianni Infantino in Qatar last year.
Confederation Champions from ‘21 to ‘24 will be eligible to compete in the Club World Club, which means Real Madrid and Chelsea have already qualified.
If either club win the Champions League again, a club ranking calculation based on the sporting criteria will be used to determine which other team will go through
The current version of the FIFA Club World Cup will be discontinued after 2023, with a new yearly club competition sanctioned from 2024.
"This competition will feature the champions of the premier club competitions of all confederations and conclude with a final to be played at a neutral venue, between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of intercontinental playoffs between the other confederations," FIFA said.
A revamped international calendar was also approved with nine-day windows in March and June for two games each, a 16-day window for four matches in September, October followed by another nine-day two-match window in November.
The news was greeted with a mixed response from the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), which expressed concerns regarding “physical fatigue and mental burnout” due to the jam-packed schedule. PFA CEO Maheta Molango went a step far and said the football calendar needed a “complete reset”.
The expanded World Cup format being announced for 2026 means that, yet again, more games are being forced into an already overcrowded schedule," Molango said.
The PFA said it was motivated to see FIFA prioritising concerns such as the need for a “minimum of 72 hours between games, a mandatory day off each week and an annual rest period”.
"However, it's very difficult to see how that aligns with the constant expansion of the domestic and international calendar," Molango added.
"We know that the current workload players face is having an ongoing impact on their wellbeing. We can't simply push them until they break."
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