The 2026 World Cup will have 104 matches rather than the customary 64 games due to the increased format with 48 nations participating,, the world’s soccer governing organization FIFA announced on Tuesday ahead of its Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.
The 2026 edition, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will be the first edition of the quadrennial tournament in which 48 countries are taking part. On July 19, the final will take place.
The new format will also continue to draw groups of four teams after a suggestion for three teams was not approved due to concerns about collusion. However there will be an expansion from eight to twelve groups.
The FIFA council decided to expand the number of games from 80 to 104 during a meeting on Tuesday. This change was made from the initial plan for the 2026 edition, which called for a total of 80 matches.
The top two teams from each group traditionally go to the round of 16, but for the 2026 edition, the eight best third-place teams will also advance to the round of 32 knockout teams.
“The FIFA Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the FIFA World Cup 2026 competition format,” FIFA said.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play at least three matches, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams.”
The 32-team World Cup in Qatar last year had a total of 64 matches completed in 29 days. There were only 24 teams present when the World Cup was last hosted by Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994).
From the 1998 tournament, there have been 32 teams, eight groups of four teams, and seven games played by each finalist. Teams competing in the summit match in 2026, however, will now play a total of eight games.
Unless they are in a significant final, like the Champions League grand finale, clubs will have until May 30 to allow players to join their national teams, according to FIFA, clubs will have to release players for the World Cup starting on May 25, 2026.
“With 56 days, the total combined number of rest, release and tournament days remain identical to the 2010, 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cup editions,” FIFA added.
Furthermore on Tuesday, FIFA announced that starting in June 2025, a 32-team Club World Cup will also hold every four years, reiterating the previous year’s announcement made in Qatar by its president, Gianni Infantino.
Chelsea and Real Madrid have already qualified for the Club World Cup because they are the confederation champions from 2021 to ’24.
A club ranking formula based on sports standards will be used to determine which other team will qualify if either club wins the Champions League once more.
A new yearly club competition will be sanctioned from 2024, replacing the present FIFA Club World Cup, an annual competition featuring seven teams, which will be discontinued after 2023.
“This competition will feature the champions of the premier club competitions of all confederations and conclude with a final which will be played at a neutral venue, between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of intercontinental playoffs between the other confederations,” FIFA said.
A new custom international schedule with nine-day windows for two games each in March and June, a 16-day window for four matches in September-October, and a final nine-day window for two games in November was also accepted.
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), which expressed concerns about “physical tiredness and mental burnout” as a result of the hectic schedule, reacted to the news in a variety of ways. PFA CEO Maheta Molango went as far about say the football calendar needed a “full reset.”
“The expanded World Cup format announced for 2026 means that, yet again, more games are being forced into an already overcrowded schedule,” Molango said.
The PFA said it encouraged to see FIFA had prioritised concerns such as the need for a “minimum of 72 hours between games, a mandatory day off each week and an annual rest period”.
“Yet, it’s very difficult to see how that aligns with the constant expansion of the domestic and international calendar,” Molango added.
“We know that the current workload players face is having an ongoing impact on their wellbeing. We can’t simply push them until they break.”