The upcoming World Cup in the United States, Canada, and Mexico will be the first to have 48 teams, which is a significant increase from the 32 teams at the previous tournament in Qatar. FIFA has stated that the revised format of the tournament will ensure that all teams play a minimum of three matches, reduce the risk of collusion, and provide adequate rest time between games. There will be 104 matches, a huge increase from the 64 games played in the 2022 tournament and even more than the original plan for 80 matches in the 2026 World Cup.
Initially, FIFA planned for 16 groups of three teams in the 2026 World Cup, with the top two countries advancing to the last 32. However, the new format means that the top two teams in each group and the eight best third-placed teams will progress to the knockout round. As a result, the finalists and the teams finishing third and fourth will play a total of eight games instead of the current seven.
FIFA decided to change the format after an entertaining group stage at the Qatar tournament, which convinced the organization to rethink its original 2026 blueprint. The decision to expand the World Cup had been a priority for FIFA President Gianni Infantino since his election in 2016. The last World Cup in North America, in the United States in 1994, featured just 24 teams, and it grew to 32 teams in France four years later.
The number of venues for the 2026 finals will double from eight stadiums in Qatar last year to 16. Eleven venues will be in the USA, with three in Mexico and two in Canada. FIFA is expecting a significant increase in revenues, up to $11 billion in the four years leading up to 2026 from $7.5 billion in the previous four-year cycle.
FIFA also announced a new expanded 32-team Club World Cup, which will start in June 2025 and be held every four years. Club rankings will determine qualifiers, and an annual competition will also be held, involving the six continental club champions, concluding with a final at a neutral venue between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of play-offs between the other teams. The yearly competition was approved to stimulate competitiveness.
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