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World Cup 2026: FIFA approves 104-game world cup with groups of four, not three

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Winner's Trophy after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Posted: Tuesday, March 14, 2023. 4:21 pm CST.

Photo Credit: FIFA

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: To win the World Cup in 2026, the winner will have to play one more game than Argentina in 2022. That’s because the FIFA Council approved a World Cup that will have 104 games at its meeting in Rwanda.

Since blowing up the number of teams from 32 to 48, FIFA has made a number of changes. While initially talking about groups of four, before Qatar 2022, FIFA seemed intent on 16 groups of three from which only the winner would qualify to the Round of 16.

But three teams per group gave way to possible collusion among teams, so FIFA has reverted to 12 groups of four. That means that instead of the projected 80 games (which was 16 more than in Qatar), the World Cup will now have 40 more games than Qatar.

The top two from each group plus the eight best third-place teams will advance 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.

FIFA has used the Qatar format in which the top two from each group advance to the Round of 16 since France 1998 when the World Cup was increased from 24 to 32 teams.

Now that the second round will be the Round of 32, the teams that reach the semifinals, and therefore the final and third-place game, will play eight matches instead of seven as Argentina, France, Croatia, and Morocco did.

FIFA also approved a men’s international match calendar from 2025-2030 and set the finals of the United States-Canada-Mexico World Cup Final for Sunday, July 19, 2026.

FIFA also approved a 32-team FIFA Club World Cup to occur every four years. The first of these will be played in June 2025. The teams that qualify for these four-year tournaments will be the top teams in the four span from 2021-2024. As winners of the UEFA Champions League in 2021 and 2022, Chelsea and Real Madrid, already qualified.


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