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FIFA Approves New World Cup Format for 2026 Tournament

FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, ratified to change the 2026 World Cup format, expanding the tournament to 104 games that will take place over 40 days in the US, Mexico and Canada.

The decision was approved unanimously in Rwanda’s Capital, Kigali, where members of the organization are gathered for the 23rd FIFA council meeting that will take place on Thursday.

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Hosted by three countries for the first time, the 2026 men’s tournament was already set to be the biggest World Cup in history with 48 participating teams, expanded from the typical 32-team format. Initially, the teams were going to be divided into 16 groups of three, with the top two qualifying for a 32-team knockout competition. The typical 64-match format that FIFA has used since 1998 would be increased to 80 matches.

The new format puts teams in 12 groups of four, with the top two and eight best third-place teams progressing to a round of 32. “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,” FIFA said in a statement. Meanwhile, adding 10 more days to the tournament will reduce the preparation time for the teams from three weeks to two.

The council unanimously approved the amendment based on a review that considered “sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting attractiveness, as well as team and fan experience,” the statement said. FIFA did not respond to Sportico‘s request for additional comments.

The tournament will be unique in another way. Instead of a single first-day match, there will be three opening-day matches played simultaneously in the host countries, according to CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani who spoke with Sportico during the FT’s Business of Football Summit in London two weeks ago.

On Thursday, FIFA’s 211 members will gather to elect the organization’s president. Current president Gianni Infantino is running unopposed.

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