The 2026 World Cup will maintain the four-team group stage format rather than change to three, FIFA has confirmed.
With the next iteration of the tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada seeing the number of competing teams increase from 32 to 48, the intention had been to have 16 groups of three teams.
However, it is believed the exciting nature of the group stage at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar prompted a rethink, and it has now been confirmed that the four-team groups will continue, with the top two in each group and the eight best third-place teams going through to the knockout stage.
FIFA said in a statement on its website: “Based on a thorough review that considered sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting attractiveness, as well as team and fan experience, the FIFA Council unanimously approved the proposed amendment to the FIFA World Cup 2026 competition format from 16 groups of three to 12 groups of four with the top two and eight best third-placed teams progressing to a round of 32.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams.”
FIFA Council approves international match calendars
— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) March 14, 2023
It was also announced at FIFA’s council meeting in Rwanda that the next men’s World Cup final will take place on Sunday, July 19, 2026 as the men’s international calendar from 2025-2030 was confirmed.
Further details will be “published in the coming days”, but FIFA was able to confirm some headline information from the calendar, including plans to have a 16-day, four match international window in late September/early October from 2026.
It was also confirmed that the women’s international calendar from 2024-2025 will “contain six international windows per year”.