The 2026 World Cup will have a record 104 games, 12 groups of four

The 2026 World Cup will have 104 matches instead of the traditional 64 due to the expanded format with 48 participating teams, global football governing body FIFA said ahead of its congress in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday.

The 2026 edition, co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, is the first edition of the 48-team, biannual tournament. The final will take place on July 19.

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The new format will also stick to drawing four teams into a group after a proposal for a three-team group was shot down over fears of collusion. However, the number of groups will be increased from eight to twelve.

The original plan for the 2026 edition called for a total of 80 games, but the decision to increase the number of games to 104 was approved by the FIFA Council at a meeting on Tuesday.

Traditionally, the top two teams in each group advance to the last 16, but the 2026 edition will also see the eight best third-place teams advance to the knockout stages of the last 32.

“The FIFA Council has unanimously approved the proposed change to the competition format of the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” FIFA said.

“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all teams play at least three games, while maintaining a balanced rest period between competing teams.”

At the World Cup with 32 teams in Qatar last year, a total of 64 games were played in 29 days. The last time Mexico (1986) and the United States (1994) hosted a World Cup, it was just 24 teams.

The tournament has 32 teams since the 1998 edition, with eight groups of four and the finalists playing seven games each. But teams that reach the summit battle in 2026 will now play a total of eight games.

FIFA said clubs must release players for the World Cup from May 25, 2026 unless they are in a major final – like the Champions League showpiece – for which clubs have until May 30 , allowing players to join their national teams.

“At 56 days, the combined total of rest, dismissal and tournament days remains identical to the 2010, 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cup editions,” FIFA added.

Also on Tuesday, FIFA announced that a 32-team Club World Cup would be staged every four years from June 2025, confirming the announcement made by its president Gianni Infantino in Qatar last year.

The 2021-24 confederation champions are eligible to play in the Club World Cup, meaning Chelsea and Real Madrid have already qualified.

Should one of the clubs win the Champions League again, a club ranking calculation based on sporting criteria will be used to determine which other team qualifies.

The current version of the FIFA Club World Cup – an annual seven-team competition – will be phased out after 2023, with a new annual club competition being authorized from 2024.

“This competition brings together the champions of each confederation’s main club competitions and ends with a final to be played at a neutral venue between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of the intercontinental play-offs between the other confederations,” said FIFA.

A restructured international calendar was also approved, with nine-day two-game windows in March and June, a 16-day four-game window in September-October, followed by another nine-day two-game window in November.

The news was met with a mixed reaction from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), who expressed concerns about “physical exhaustion and mental burnout” due to the packed schedule. PFA CEO Maheta Molango even went so far as to say that the football calendar needs to be “completely reset”.

“The expanded World Cup format announced for 2026 means yet more games will be forced into an already crowded schedule,” Molango said.

The PFA said it was encouraging to see FIFA prioritizing concerns such as the need for “a minimum of 72 hours between matches, one mandatory day off per week and an annual rest period”.

“However, it is very difficult to see how this reconciles with the ever-expanding national and international calendar,” Molango added.

“We know that the current workload of players has a profound impact on their well-being. We can’t just keep pushing them until they break.” The 2026 World Cup will have a record 104 games, 12 groups of four

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