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FIFA set to approve new World Cup format for 2026

The FIFA Council are set to confirm the format of the World Cup in 2026, reports The Athletic.

The 2026 World Cup is poised to be the biggest tournament yet. Hosted in the United States, Mexico and Canada, the tournament will be expanded to 48 teams – a 50% increase on the current amount.

The initial plan was to divide the teams into 16 groups of three and have the top two progress to the next stage. However, this idea was met with criticism.

Many people believed this format would reduce the excitement of the final round of group stage games.

The most recent World Cup provided plenty of drama on matchday three, most notably when South Korea scored a last-gasp winner against Portugal to progress to the knockout phase at the expense of Uruguay.

Non-simultaneous group stage games could also lead to collusion between teams. The most infamous example of this came in the 1982 tournament when West Germany and Austria played out a dull 1-0 victory in order for both teams to qualify. The game has since been known as the ‘Disgrace of Gijon’.

FIFA have now gone back on their plans for three-team groups. According to The Athletic, the 2026 World Cup will have 12 groups of four.

The top two from each group will progress, along with the eight best third-placed teams. The knockout stage will begin from the round of 32, giving us an additional set of fixtures.

There have also been counter-arguments to this set-up. For example, allowing three teams to advance arguably makes the group stage a bit too easy – in theory, a team can get one point from their three outings and still make it to the knockout phase.

The additional 16 qualifying spots have already been determined. UEFA and CONCACAF will get three more direct qualifying places each, CAF and AFC will get four each, while CONMEBOL and OFC will claim another one each.

The new format will take the total of games to 104 – a drastic increase from the 64-game system used since 1998.

The US is expected to host the vast majority of these matches.

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