Due to the increased format and participation of 48 nations, the 2026 World Cup will feature 104 matches as opposed to the customary 64 games, the world’s soccer governing body FIFA announced on Tuesday following its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.
The new format will also continue to draw groups of four teams after a suggestion for three teams was rejected due to concerns about collusion. However, there will be 16 groups instead of the current 12 groups.
The FIFA council decided to expand the number of games from 80 to 104 during a meeting on Tuesday. This change was made from the initial plan for the 2026 edition, which called for a total of 80 matches.
The top two teams from each group traditionally go to the round of 16, but for the 2026 edition, the eight best third-place teams will also advance to the round of 32 knockout teams.
FIFA announced that the proposed change to the competition format for the FIFA World Cup 2026 was unanimously approved by the FIFA Council.
“The revamped format provides balanced rest time between competing teams, minimizes the potential of collusion, and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches.”
In total, 64 matches from the 32-team World Cup in Qatar last year were played over the course of 29 days. There were only 24 teams present when the World Cup was last hosted by Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994).
From the 1998 tournament, there have been 32 teams, eight groups of four teams, and seven games played by each finalist. Teams competing in the summit match in 2026, however, will now play a total of eight games.
Unless they are in a significant final, like the Champions League grand finale, clubs will have until May 30 to allow players to join their national teams, according to FIFA, clubs will be required to release players for the World Cup starting on May 25, 2026.
The overall number of rest, release, and tournament days, 56, is the same as it was during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, and 2018 FIFA World Cup, according to FIFA.
Furthermore, on Tuesday, FIFA announced that starting in June 2025, a 32-team Club World Cup will be held every four years, reiterating the previous year’s announcement made in Qatar by its president, Gianni Infantino.
Chelsea and Real Madrid have already qualified for the Club World Cup because they are the confederation champions from 2021 to ’24.
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.
The winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of the intercontinental playoffs between the other confederations will face each other in the competition’s championship match, according to FIFA, which will take place at a neutral site.
A newly designed international schedule with nine-day windows for two games each in March and June, a 16-day window for four matches in September-October, and a final nine-day window for two games in November was also accepted.