What the World Cup will look like in 2026 with 48 teams
It’s not even three months since the final World Cup ended, with Argentina beating France 4-2 on penalties after a 3-3 draw in the ultimate in Qatar, however already FIFA is looking forward to the revamped 2026 version when it rolls into the United States, Mexico and Canada. The format, group sizes and size of the match have all now been confirmed — and it may be loads totally different to what we’re used to.
The outdated format, which noticed 32 teams drawn into eight teams of 4 nations feeding into the knockout rounds, first featured at France ’98. It’s all a technology of soccer followers has recognized, spanning 24 years and 7 editions.
In 2026, 48 teams participate in the World Cup — 45 qualifying nations plus the three host international locations. It’s been confirmed that, as hosts, United States, Mexico and Canada will not should undergo the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) qualifying competitors.
It means the pure format of 32 teams in eight teams with the prime two teams going via to create the excellent, 16-team knockout bracket is over.
There are going to be extra teams, extra video games, extra kickoff occasions and an extended match. The World Cup has normally lasted round 32 days, although the video games have been condensed into 29 in Qatar.
So how will the 2026 World Cup work, who will qualify and what might it look like?
Why are there extra nations at the 2026 World Cup?
This is the largest growth the World Cup has seen. It began out with between 13 and 16 nations in 1930, 1934, 1938 and 1950. From 1954 onwards, the match featured 16 teams till it was elevated to 24 for Spain ’82, after which 32 for France ’98.
The transfer from 32 to 48 teams is a 50% enhance, and will make it tough for anyone nation to host the occasion due to the venues and infrastructure required.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who was initially elected to run FIFA on a proposal to develop to 40 teams, robustly defended the resolution when it was introduced in 2017, which FIFA tasks will generate $1 billion extra revenue and $640 million extra revenue.
Infantino says the cash will be reinvested in soccer: “Increasing the size of teams which can participate will increase the investment in football development, to make sure that the teams can qualify.”
How will the 2026 World Cup group stage work?
It’s been over six years since the FIFA council voted to extend the measurement of the World Cup and permitted a format that might see the 48 teams divided into 16 teams of three teams.
The prime two teams in every group would have gone via to a spherical of 32, which brought about controversy because it meant the teams in the ultimate group match might play out a particular consequence to make sure each undergo at the expense of the third crew, who wouldn’t be taking part in. At the 1982 World Cup, with four-team teams however ultimate matches not performed at the similar time, West Germany and Austria performed out a 1-0 sport which meant each teams went via at the expense of Algeria, with the three teams ending on 4 factors. It’s after this incident that FIFA adopted concurrent ultimate group video games.
FIFA had urged it might get round such collusion by deciding all group-game attracts by penalty shootouts, however this nonetheless would not have eradicated the prospect of a particular consequence like 1-0 suiting each teams in the third sport.
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So there was a rethink, and through the thrilling, four-team group stage in Qatar it was admitted by FIFA it might ditch the agreed three-team group stage format. And it is now official.
“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 said.
The confirmed format sees the 48 teams drawn into 12 teams of 4 teams. However, 32 teams should come out of the teams to create a balanced knockout bracket. That means the prime two teams from every group plus the eight finest third-placed teams will advance, making a spherical of 32. UEFA has used an analogous system with third-placed teams advancing to the knockout rounds for the final two European Championships.
This creates an everyday group stage with double-header ultimate video games, which may produce nice drama as we noticed in the 2022 version. There could be much less jeopardy with third-placed teams to undergo, however it feels a extra pure system for the World Cup. And all teams would get these three video games.
More teams means extra video games?
The challenge with 12 teams of 4 is the big variety of extra video games. The 2022 World Cup had 64 video games, and the three-team group stage format would have produced 80, however with four-team teams and a spherical of 32 there will be 104 matches — a 47% enhance match to match.
The European Club Association, which exists to guard and promote European membership soccer, was towards the enhance the 48 video games due to the impression on the home calendar. Fears have been allayed when FIFA stated the match might nonetheless be performed inside 32 days, however a swap to 104 fixtures can solely consequence in a much bigger and longer World Cup.
How lengthy will the 2026 World Cup final?
“The tournament will be six or seven days longer, but the actual footprint between release and final will be the same footprint as 2014 and 2018,” stated Victor Montagliani, the chairman of the 2026 World Cup and president of CONCACAF.
FIFA says the match will be the similar size as the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups at a complete of 56 days, although this does not actually inform the entire story.
The 56 days pertains to the footprint of the competitors, when top-flight soccer is successfully paused as FIFA says all golf equipment should launch gamers to their nationwide teams. The match itself is normally little greater than half that, however it will should be longer to suit all the video games in.
The 2026 World Cup itself is about to final 39 days — every week longer than the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups and 10 days greater than the Qatar version.
The obligatory launch interval will start on May 25, 2026, so the final official membership matches should be performed on May 24. Exemptions could apply to the ultimate matches of confederation membership competitions, like the UEFA Champions League, to May 30.
The World Cup ultimate will be performed on Sunday, July 19 — and whereas FIFA has but to formally announce the precise begin date and the size of the match it will start round Wednesday, June 10.
For the 2018 World Cup, home membership soccer ended on May 20 and the World Cup started on June 14 — a preparation interval of 25 days for certified nations. For 2026, that’s minimize to 16 days to allow an expanded match.
Who will get the additional locations at the 2026 World Cup?
Forty-six teams will qualify robotically, with the ultimate two slots allotted via intercontinental playoffs.
There are 17 extra qualifying locations in comparison with 2022 — 16 added slots plus the earlier 1 place for the hosts which is not reserved individually and goes into the qualifying pot. For occasion, for the 2022 World Cup, Asia obtained 5 locations: 4 computerized qualifying locations PLUS Qatar as hosts — there may be now no extra allocation.
This is how the 46 computerized slots are allotted, with the enhance in locations proven in brackets.
While CONCACAF is because of obtain six computerized qualifying locations, solely three will be up for grabs for the 2026 version. This is as a result of United States, Mexico and Canada’s computerized spots will be deducted from the six locations allotted to CONCACAF. Thus, CONCACAF’s variety of qualifying route locations is diminished to 3.
For the intercontinental playoffs, a complete of six teams — one from every of the 5 confederations other than Europe, plus an extra one from CONCACAF as host confederation — will participate.
Who would qualify for a 48-team World Cup?
Let’s take the 2022 World Cup and develop it to 48 teams (which at one level was being strongly thought-about by FIFA.)
For the functions of this illustration, extra qualification locations have been handed to the next-best nations in the qualifying competitors for every confederation. (As Italy didn’t even make the UEFA playoff finals, they nonetheless miss out in this illustration.)
The teams in daring are the extra 16.
Africa: Algeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Tunisia
Asia: Australia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, UAE
North, Central America and Caribbean: Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, United States
Europe: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, Wales
Oceania: New Zealand
South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay
The two finest FIFA-ranked teams eligible for the intercontinental playoffs (Chile and DR Congo) are given the final locations. (The different international locations in the playoffs would have been El Salvador, Honduras, Solomon Islands, Syria.)
There would have been World Cup debuts for Mali, North Macedonia, and Qatar as hosts.
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What might the 2026 World Cup group stage look like?
FIFA is contemplating two strategies:
1) 12 teams of 4 feeding via to at least one knockout bracket.
2) Two halves of 24 teams, creating 6 teams of 4 in every. The halves would come collectively for the ultimate.
They are very comparable, although with choice 2 you would not have the ability to play a crew from the different half till the ultimate. Also, the total finest eight third-placed teams may not undergo, as every half would wish 4 third-placed teams to advance.
The draw pots would possible see the regular system of hosts in Pot 1 alongside with the prime teams by FIFA World Ranking, with Pots 2-4 the relaxation in order of FIFA World Ranking.
Pot 1: Mexico, United States, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Argentina, France, England, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark
Pot 2: Germany, Croatia, Uruguay, Switzerland, Colombia, Senegal, Wales, Iran, Serbia, Morocco, Peru, Japan
Pot 3: Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, South Korea, Chile, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Algeria, Australia, Egypt, Cameroon
Pot 4: Ecuador, Mali, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Ghana, Jamaica, North Macedonia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, DR Congo, New Zealand
Each group would don’t have any a couple of crew from every confederation, other than Europe, which would wish to have 4 teams with two teams.
A check draw produces the following teams:
Group A: Argentina, Switzerland, Sweden, Iraq
Group B: Belgium, Peru, Costa Rica, Ghana
Group C: Canada, Iran, Chile, North Macedonia
Group D: Netherlands, Morocco, South Korea, Jamaica
Group E: Mexico, Serbia, Egypt, Qatar
Group F: Denmark, Uruguay, Cameroon, United Arab Emirates
Group G: England, Croatia, Nigeria, Ecuador
Group H: United States, Colombia, Poland, DR Congo
Group I: Portugal, Senegal, Australia, Panama
Group J: Brazil, Japan, Ukraine, Mali
Group Ok: Spain, Wales, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
Group L: France, Germany, Algeria, New Zealand
How will the 2026 World Cup differ from the final version in the US?
More teams and extra matches
There have been solely 24 teams at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., taking part in a complete of 52 matches (36 in the group stage.) In 2026, it may be 104 fixtures (72 in the group stage.)
More host cities unfold throughout time zones
USA ’94 was a match largely held on the East Coast (Eastern Time, ET); of the 9 host cities, solely Stanford and Pasadena have been on the West Coast (Pacific Time, PT) with simply Chicago and Dallas in Central Time (CT).
In 2026, the World Cup will see 16 venues in three international locations throughout the three time zones.
PT (4): Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles
CT (6): Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City
ET (6): Atlanta, Miami, Boston, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Toronto
More video games could imply later kickoffs
In 1994, kickoff occasions have been tailor-made extra towards European audiences, with no sport kicking off later that 4:30 p.m. PT (12:30 a.m. in the UK.)
FIFA will not schedule any two matches to be performed at the similar time, aside from the ultimate group matches, and with so many extra video games to be performed it is possible video games will be stretched throughout the day to maximise the timezones.
With solely 24 video games to schedule for the first two group matches in 1994, it was attainable to keep away from night kickoffs in PT — in a single day in Europe. But with 48 matches to suit into an analogous timescale, it will be tough to keep away from with out the match getting even longer.
Montagliani says it “could possibly” imply six matches a day, so the first sport would possibly kick off at 1 p.m. ET (6 p.m. UK) with one other beginning each two hours via to the ultimate match ending on the West Coast at 10 p.m. PT (1 a.m. ET, 6 a.m. UK), regardless that it is not splendid to have matches happening late at evening ET.
There should not be numerous fixtures performed so late, however it may very well be unavoidable to have some in that window in the first two rounds of group stage video games.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Ivory Coast vs. Japan was one match scheduled to be performed at 10 p.m. native time (2 a.m. UK) to allow 4 matches to be performed that day (each different day in the first two rounds of group matches had not more than three fixtures.) Qatar had 10 p.m. native as one in every of its principal kickoff occasions, the first time this has been the case at the World Cup.
What about the qualifying course of for the 2026 World Cup?
Confederations are beginning to affirm how qualifying will work.
Three nations will qualify, with the first spherical to happen in March 2024.
The ultimate spherical, which will resolve the three computerized qualifiers and the intercontinental playoff teams, performed September to November 2025 and that includes 12 teams.
Starting in March 2025, there will be 12 teams of 4 or 5 teams with the winners of every group qualifying immediately for the World Cup. The playoff format for the ultimate 4 locations is but to be confirmed.
South America will maintain its regular, 10-team single league format. Qualifying is about to start in September 2023 with the prime six direct to the finals.
Qualifying will start in October 2023 with the minor Asian nations.
The computerized qualifiers will be recognized after the third spherical, which will start in September 2024 and run via to June 2025.
Yet to be determined.