Part of the FIFA Council. (Photo courtesy of FIFA)
By Michael Lewis
The biggest World Cup ever staged by FIFA has gotten ever bigger.
The 2026 World Cup, which will involve 48 teams and three host countries for the first time, will be played over almost 40 days during that summer. The United States, Mexico and Canada will welcome the world.
The FIFA Council unanimously approved that in during a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday.
Those 48 teams will play a record 104 matches, 24 more games than originally planned. That means the four semifinals will need to play eight games instead of the seven the 2022 final four sides played at Qatar in November and December.
The World Cup final has been set for July 19, 2026.
Most modern World Cups, already considered a marathon, traditionally have taken a month to complete.
The original schedule had the 48 teams broken into 16 groups of three teams apiece. Now, there will be 12 groups of four squads each. The top two finishers and each group and the eight best third-placed teams would qualify for the Round of 32.
In a statement, FIFA said the change was “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 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 added.
Concacaf president and FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani gave a thumb’s up to the new format.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he was quoted by The New York Times.
The new format also will force World Cup organizaers to find more dates in the 16 host cities. Montagliani told The Times that there would be discussions to see how and where the additional games would be played. He also did not rule out adding a host city, which would be unprecedented in modern World Cup history.
FIFA did not say when the World Cup would kick off.