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FIFA approves 2026 World Cup format with record 104 matches


(Reuters) - The 2026 World Cup will have 104 matches instead of the traditiona­l 64 games due to the expanded format with 48 teams taking part, global soccer governing body FIFA said yesterday ahead of its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.

The 2026 edition, which will be cohosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will be the first edition of the quadrennia­l tournament where 48 teams are taking part. The final will be held on July 19. The new format will also stick to drawing four teams in a group after a proposal for 16groups of three was shot down over fears of collusion in the final group game. However, the number of groups will increase from eight to 12.

The original plan for the 2026 edition had a total of 80 matches but the decision to increase the number of games to 104 was approved by FIFA’s council at a meeting on Tuesday. Traditiona­lly the top two teams from each group advance to the last 16 but the 2026 edition will also have the eight best third-placed teams moving into 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 32-team World Cup in Qatar last year had a total of 64 matches completed in 29 days. The last time Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994) hosted a World Cup, there were only 24 teams.

The tournament has had 32 teams since the 1998 edition, with eight groups of four and the finalists playing seven games each. But teams reaching the summit clash in 2026 will now play eight matches in total.


FIFA said a 32-team Club World Cup will be played every four years from June 2025, confirming the announceme­nt made by its president Gianni Infantino in Qatar last year.

Confederat­ion champions from 20212024 will be eligible to play in the new Club World Cup, which means Chelsea and Real Madrid have already qualified.

Should either club win the Champions League again, a club ranking calculatio­n based on sporting criteria will be used to determine which other team will qualify.

The current version of the FIFA Club World Cup — an annual competitio­n with seven teams — will be discontinu­ed after 2023, with a new yearly club competitio­n approved 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 play-offs between the other confederat­ions,” FIFA said.

FIFA said clubs will have to release players for the World Cup from May 25, 2026 unless they are in a major final — such as the Champions League showpiece — for which clubs will have until May 30 to allow players to join their national teams. “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.

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