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Saturday, March 2, 2024

FIFA Expands 2026 World Cup With 104-Game Format

  • The 39 days of competition would make the 2026 World Cup the longest ever.
  • The new format will see the group stage broken up into 12 groups of four nations each.
Victor Montagliani, Gianni Infantino, Colin Smith, and Bryan Swanson speak during a FIFA World Cup 2026 Announcement press conference
Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

The World Cup is already set to expand to 48 teams when it comes to North America in 2026, and now FIFA has updated the tournament’s format — a change that will make it longer and add games to the schedule.

At its annual congress in Kigali, Rwanda, the FIFA Council formally approved a move from the 64-game format the World Cup has used since 1998 to a 104-game one that will span over 39 days — making it the longest tournament in FIFA’s history.

The field will be divided into 12 groups of four nations each. As in previous editions, the top two teams after group play will advance to the knockout round — but unlike before, the top eight third-place teams will also advance, creating a 32-team knockout bracket.

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FIFA’s originally proposed format to accommodate the extra teams would have created 16 groups of three for 80 total games.

However, many critics raised issues with that plan, as it would dilute the excitement of simultaneous final group-stage games and potentially create collusion among nations to advance to the knockout stage.

FIFA plans to make up the lost time the extra games will require by reducing the pre-tournament release period from 23 days to 16 days — less than in previous tournaments, but still significantly more time than players had to prepare for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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