Football World Cup is going to be bigger than ever with FIFA set to announce a massive expansion for the 2026 edition reverting to a four-team group stage format that will see 16 more teams participating. The world football's governing body is now planning to have 104 matches instead of 64.
The Jules Rimet trophy is around three years away and will be hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with 48 teams set to participate for the first time. There has been significant discussion regarding a new format with 16 groups of three teams. FIFA is believed to have been reconsidering the concept in recent months out of concern that it would result in less entertaining matches.
Bigger and Better
The council meeting for FIFA's annual congress will take place later this week, but on Tuesday it will meet in Kigali, Rwanda. According to The Athletic, the marquee event will require scheduling adjustments as FIFA wants to make the event more interesting.
According to the outlet, FIFA will announce their plans to field four teams in each group, increasing the number of games at the tournament from 64 to 104. The suggested format would make the World Cup the biggest and longest one ever.
The initial plan was for 16 groups of three, with the top two from each segment moving on to the round of 32. Using that strategy, 80 matches instead of 64 would have been played.
However, FIFA now plans to have 12 groups of four teams each in the new format, with the top two moving on to the knockout rounds. They would then be joined in the next stage by the top eight third-place teams.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar saw underdogs like Japan and South Korea reaching the knockout stages, while bigger teams like Germany, Belgium, and Uruguay were eliminated after narrowly missing out on second place.
However, the Qatar tournament's success and the thrilling nature of its dramatic group stage, which featured four teams, pushed FIFA to reevaluate their intentions. President Gianni Infantino acknowledged that they will "revisit" the proposal.
Moreover, the last round of matches in three-team groups lacks the thrill of simultaneous games, and they have also caused controversy in the past - most notably at the 1982 World Cup - because teams can work together to ensure that they both advance to the knockout stages.
Keeping this in mind, FIFA has decided to favor 12 groups of four, with the eight best third-place clubs joining the top two in the round of 32.
"I have to say that after this World Cup and the success of the groups of four, and looking as well at some other competitions like the Euros for example where you have 24 teams and the top two plus the best third ones go to the next stage," Infantino said.
He added: "Here, the groups of four have been absolutely incredible in the sense that until the last minute of the last match, you wouldn't know who goes through.
"We will have to revisit or at least rediscuss the format - whether we go for 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four. This is something that will certainly be on the agenda in the next meetings."