The already gigantic World Cup 2026 is to be even bigger. According to a report by The New York Times, a format change for the finals in the USA, Canada and Mexico is imminent - 104 games are to be played, 40 more than at previous World Cups.
The Council of the world association FIFA met in Kigali, representatives of the German Football Association were not at the table. The mode change fits into FIFA President Gianni Infantino's expansion plans.
So far it had been expected that the 48 nations would play in 16 groups of three in the preliminary round in just under three and a half years. This format alone would have meant increasing the previous 64 World Cup games (with 32 participants) to 80 games. However, this mode has already been criticized several times because of the higher risk of collusion, because one nation in the group must be free of play.
Twelve groups of four
The new format provides for twelve groups of four in the preliminary round, which alone accounts for 72 games. The first and second in the group as well as the eight best third in the group advance. This is followed by 32 more games. At least 40 World Cup days would be necessary for the tournament in three countries. At the end of 2022, the last and compact finals in Qatar were held in 29 days, world champions Argentina needed seven games to win the title.
For the individual teams, the format change would only add a maximum of one game - for World Cup fans it would be 24 more games compared to the three-player mode. According to the proponents, the fact that each nation is guaranteed to experience the kick-off of a World Cup game on the pitch three times instead of just twice also speaks in favor of the four-group mode.
From an economic point of view, FIFA should expect significantly more money due to the higher number of TV broadcasts. For the World Cup cycle from 2023 to 2026, a total of eleven billion US dollars had been calculated. From 2019 to 2022, the total revenue was 7.568 billion US dollars, as officially announced by FIFA.
Increase from 32 to 48 nations
The 2026 World Cup was awarded to the three organizers in 2018, the increase from 32 to 48 nations was decided in January 2017. Infantino, who will be unopposed for another term at the congress in Kigali on Thursday, had already praised the format with groups of four as a great success in Qatar. "Here the groups of four were absolutely unbelievable, in the sense that until the last minute of the last game it was not clear who would go through," said the Swiss.