Fifa to approve expanded World Cup with new 48 team format and extra games while being longest in history
FIFA will today confirm the 2026 World Cup will be the longest and biggest in history.
World chiefs under President Gianni Infantino have agreed on the final structure, to be rubber-stamped at the meeting of the organisation’s ruling Council in Kigali, Rwanda.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino is set to make some major changesRex
More teams are set to join the World Cup competition come 2026Getty
It will mean a tournament expanded from the 64 games in Qatar to a massive 104 split across the venues in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
And while Qatar 2022 was played over 29 days to squeeze it into the smallest possible window, the next World Cup will be played over 39 days, a fraction over five and a half weeks.
That will not go down well with the clubs who supply the players, although Fifa will cut the preparation period to a maximum 17 days rather than the 24 days specified for the last summer World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Instead of the much-criticised initial plan of 16 groups of three teams – which saw many experts voice fear of potential collusion in the final set of games – Fifa will stick with four team groups.
It means the top two in each of the 12 opening groups will go through to the knock-out phase, along with the eight best third-placed teams.
That will see the knock-out stage starting with the round of 32.
For the first time in World Cup history, the winners will have to play EIGHT games to lift the trophy.
The decision to expand the competition to 48 teams for the first time caused controversy when it was made in 2017.
Since then, Fifa has looked at various options before reverting to 12 groups of fours.
LIKELY 2026 World Cup timetable
Jun 11 Opening matches – one each in Canada, Mexico and USA (3 matches)
Jun 12-27 Group stage games. Final round of group games played over six days (total 69 more matches)
June 28-Jul 1 First knock-out round (16 matches)
Jul 2-3 Rest days
Jul 4-7 Last 16 (eight matches)
Jul 8-9 Rest days
Jul 10-11 Quarter-finals (four matches)
Jul 14-15 Semi-finals (two matches)
Jul 18 3rd place game
Jul 19 World Cup Final
Total 104 matches in 39 days
Ideas that were considered and then rejected included penalty shoot-outs at the end of drawn group games and a “winner’s” bonus of the team topping the group staying in the same city for the opening knock-out tie.
But the drama of the final group games in Qatar, including the incredible night in which, at points in the games, all four of Spain, Japan, Germany and Costa Rica were both going through and going home, saw Infantino add his weight to the new format.