More nations, matches, and action. With the new World Cup format coming in 2026, the next tournament is going to be the biggest one yet.
The 2026 World Cup was already going to be the biggest one yet, as the first to take place across three different countries: the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But after FIFA announced a new World Cup format for 2026, there are now even more reasons to be excited.
Here are the key changes you need to know about the new format.
How many teams?
In 2026, more nations will get their shot at glory, with the number of teams to compete at the top football competition in the world will be increasing from 32 to 48. Originally, FIFA had considered classifying all the nations into 16 groups of three. But, following the success of the four-team groupings, they decided to maintain this. Thus, the new World Cup format will see 12 groups with four teams each. Each team will play a three-game round-robin to accumulate points in hopes of advancing to the knockout rounds.
Who will advance?
As in previous World Cups, the top two teams of every group will automatically advance to the knockout stages. However, the new World Cup format will be allowing additional teams to advance to kick off the knockout stage with a Round of 32. Apart from the top two teams of every group, the top eight third-place teams will also be advancing to the next stage of the tournament, to complete the 32 nations.
The eight best third-placers will be determined based on points accumulated from the group stage, goal differentials, and other tiebreakers where deemed necessary.
How many more matches?
With a bigger tournament coming in 2026, and more teams who will get to advance, the new World Cup format will feature 104 matches, 40 more than the previous editions’ 64. In addition, the new Round of 32 included in the knockout stages means that the final four teams of the tournament will be playing eight games from the previous seven.
Overall, this will mean that the tournament could go on to last around 38 to 40 days. In the last World Cups, 64 matches took place over the span of 32 days.
With more nations coming to compete, along with more competition, we will definitely be getting more football action at the next World Cup. And if you’re excited, you can already save the date: the finals will take place on July 19, 2026.
Banner image from FIFA.