FIFA plans 12 groups with four teams each for the 2026 World Cup

Fifa tends to maintain the format with four selections per group for the 2026 Cup, to be held in the USA, Mexico and Canada 2026, in this case increasing to 12 groups. That was the indication in discussions at the top of the entity because of the success of the first phase of the 2022 Qatar Cup. But no final decision has been taken and two other formulas are still on the table.

The 2026 World Cup will see an increase in the total number of selections, from 32 to 48. As a result, there is a need to adjust the formula. Initially, the FIFA Council had approved the format with three teams per group, for a total of 16.

The exciting disputes of the group stage in Qatar, with undefined vacancies until the last minute, changed the course of the discussions. A recent FIFA meeting on the 2026 World Cup signaled a preference for four-team groups. Three-team groups still have the problem of incentivizing teams to go for draws.

Publicly, until now, Fifa’s director of global development, Arsène Wenger, signaled in an interview that there were three formula options for the 2026 Cup and that the decision would be defined in a period of up to one year. The other two options would be with 16 groups of three teams, or two sides with 12 teams. But discussions have been moving towards the four teams per group.

An open point in the debate is how many teams would qualify for the next knockout stage. One possibility is to open only 16 vacancies, which would limit classifieds to the first placed and another four second. The second alternative is to have a total of 32 places, with one more knockout phase. In this case, there would be two teams classified per group, plus eight teams that were in third place.

There is a definition that there will be 16 headquarters spread across the USA, Mexico and Canada. The first phase will have games in all three countries. But the tendency is for the third phase (eighth or quarter-finals depending on the format) to be played only in North American stadiums.

Currently, there are four cities vying to host the final: New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas.

The total number of games will depend on the decision on the final format of the knockout games. But it is certain that there will be an increase from the current 64 matches to over 80. With groups of four teams, that would be at least 88 matches.

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