FIFA confirms more games for 2026 World Cup venues

Featured image credit: FIFA

FIFA has confirmed a further expansion of the 2026 World Cup by reverting back to the four-team group stage format, while world football’s governing body has detailed plans for another new club competition.

The decisions were made as the FIFA Council met yesterday (Tuesday) in advance of its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda. Under the original vision for the 2026 World Cup, which is being co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the group format was due to be changed to a system utilising 16 groups of three teams.

The 2026 World Cup will mark the first edition of the tournament to feature 48 teams, up from 32, and the original group stage plan had been put in place back in 2017, before the ‘United 2026’ bid landed the hosting rights in June 2018.

However, there has long been unease over the change, with the three-team group format potentially increasing the risk of match manipulation for the final round of fixtures. The drama played out in the final round of group games at Qatar 2022 also heightened calls for this format to remain intact.

FIFA said: “Based on a thorough review that considered sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting attractiveness, as well as team and fan experience, the FIFA Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the FIFA World Cup 2026 competition format from 16 groups of three to 12 groups of four with the top two and eight best third-placed 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.”

For United 2026, retaining the four-team group format will now mean a 104-game schedule. FIFA decided on the 16 cities that will host the World Cup in June and they will now have to accommodate an extra 24 games. However, with a number of NFL stadia being utilised, this is expected to create around 1.5 million more tickets, generating further revenue for FIFA.

The 2026 World Cup was already projected to generate around $3bn (£2.47bn/€2.8bn) in ticket and hospitality sales for FIFA, as well as smashing the tournament attendance record. That mark is currently held by the United States’ staging of the 1994 World Cup, when 3.6 million fans attended 52 games in a 24-team event.

Yesterday’s FIFA Council meeting also saw the approval of the key principles of access for the revamped and expanded Club World Cup, which is due to become a 32-team event held every four years from 2025.

However, FIFA also detailed plans for another competition, stating the need to replace the current Club World Cup following the final staging in its current guise in Saudi Arabia later this year.

FIFA said: “Since the current version of the FIFA Club World Cup will be discontinued after the 2023 edition and, given the need expressed by the confederations for the champions of their premier club competitions to play each other annually to stimulate competitiveness, the FIFA Council unanimously approved the strategic concept of a yearly FIFA club competition as of 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. Details on timing and format will follow in due course.”