Mar 15, 2023 - Sports

The big World Cup gets bigger

Illustration of a soccer ball broken up into small pieces and rearranged

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The 2026 World Cup — the first to feature 48 teams — will have 12 groups of four, FIFA announced Tuesday, reversing course from its original plan.

State of play: When FIFA agreed in 2017 to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 teams, the plan was to have 16 groups of three, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout stage. 80 matches total.

  • The new plan will see the eight best third-place teams join the top two teams from each group in the knockout stage, with 104 matches over 39 days of competition.
  • The U.S. was set to stage 60 games under the original 80-match format, with Canada and Mexico getting 10 each. It's unclear how the 24 extra games will be divvied up, or if FIFA will need additional host cities.

Between the lines: The main problem with three-team groups is that you lose the excitement of simultaneous games on the final day. You also increase the chances of teams colluding to get the result they need (see: the "Disgrace of Gijón").

What they're saying: "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.

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