The FIFA World Cup is the biggest and most prestigious tournament in global soccer. It is contested by the men’s national teams of member associations of FIFA, football’s global governing body.
The competition, which is held every four years, sees teams from across the world competing for the coveted title of World Champion. This year’s edition of the FIFA World Cup takes place in Qatar, with 32 teams taking part.
The format for this year’s tournament sees eight groups of four nations compete in a round-robin stage, with the top two sides progressing to a 16-team knockout stage.
FIFA announced on June 9th that they were abandoning the original format for the 2026 World Cup which would have featured 48 teams split into 16 groups of three. This decision was made after discussions with member associations revealed many did not like or understand the complex competition structure.
There has been some speculation that FIFA could abandon the 16-group format for the 2026 World Cup in favor of a different system. Former Arsenal FC coach Arsene Wenger has now said that he believes FIFA will abandon plans to expand next year’s competition to 48 teams.
The 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, has been announced with plans to include 48 teams divided into 16 groups of 3. Each team will play two games, and the top two finishers from each group will advance to the Round of 32. This would create a total of 80 matches in the tournament.
However, in that setup, two teams may play to a predetermined outcome in order to progress, while the third would be forced to sit on the sidelines and watch. That also makes it easier for people to conspire together.
Following the great excitement and drama of the final match days of the 2022 World Cup group stage, FIFA has apparently decided to review this structure.
According to the ESPNFC article, two more formats have been offered. The first option would divide the 64 teams into 12 groups of 4, with the top 2 teams from each group advancing to the next round. As many as eight of the third-place clubs would also progress to the playoff round.
The alternative model would divide the event in half, with each half consisting of a 24-team mini-tournament with six groups of four teams. The World Cup final would feature the victor of each qualifying round.
Under the other two models, the number of matches would increase from 80 under the “Group of 3” model to 104. The increased number of games at the 2026 World Cup shouldn’t be a problem for organizers, as there are already plans in place to play them in 16 different venues.
This would also make the last match days of the group stage more thrilling, as clubs finishing in third place would still have a chance to proceed to the knockout stage. Increase the number of guaranteed matches during the group stage from two to three, which would be good for fans of the US Men’s National Team and the other teams competing in the event.