The 2026 FIFA World Cup is set to go through a large format change.
The tournament, co-hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, will feature 48 teams, 16 more than the current 32. The slots are as follows: 8 from Asia, 9 from Africa, 6 from North and Central America, 6 from South America, 1 from Oceania, 16 from Europe, and 2 playoff slots.
So how will these 48 teams compete? FIFA’s initial plan was to split the teams into sixteen 3-team groups, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stage, which would commence from the round of 32. In theory, the winning team would have to play seven games to win the tournament, the same number as the current format.
However, this method raised a lot of questions. For one, it was seen as wasteful to see a third of the competition exit the tournament after playing only two games. For another, as the format would prevent final group games from taking place simultaneously, match fixing to get a more favorable outcome could be an issue. An infamous example is the game between Austria and West Germany at the 1982 World Cup, when the teams blatantly gave up the match in order for both to advance after competitors Algeria had finalized their position. At the time, the final round of games were not played at the same time, hence the scandal.
According to multiple reports, it seems that FIFA has had a change of mind, and switched to a format including twelve 4-team groups. The top two teams from each group would advance to the knockout stage, joined by eight of the third-placed teams. The format is just like the current format for the Euros, only twice the size. This means more games — the winning team would have to play eight games instead of seven.
More details are set to follow, including official dates and times for games as well as stadia. There has been one official date released however: the final will be played on Sunday, July 19. The venue for the final is unknown as of now, but the MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and the New York Jets, is a likely candidate. Never thought we’d see a World Cup final played in New Jersey, but here we are.