World Cup 2026 to feature 104 games include 72-game sodding group stage
The 2026 World Cup will kick off with a 72-game group stage to eliminate 16 teams after a FIFA re-think following the 2022 World Cup.
There will be a frankly ludicrous 48 teams at the 2026 World Cup across North America and the original plan was to have 16 three-team groups.
But that plan was scuppered by a) being a terrible plan and b) the 2022 World Cup group stage being brilliant.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino indicated in Qatar that a re-think was on the cards, saying: “I have to say after this World Cup, and the success of the groups of four, we have to revisit or rediscuss the format whether we go for 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four.
“We are convinced that football will be booming in North America. We will start working immediately for that World Cup. We are really convinced of the growth.”
But the problem is that the four-team group format was perfect for a 32-team tournament but 48 teams creates a 72-game group stage to eliminate only a third of the teams, with eight of 12 groups seeing three of four teams advance.
The new decision will be approved at a meeting of the FIFA Council on Tuesday in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, where world football’s bosses have gathered for their annual congress.
This will now be the longest World Cup at 39 days, though FIFA hope that will be mitigated by reducing the lead time before the tournament from 23 days to 16 so players can take part in club football a little more than two weeks before.
FIFA has projected that the increase to 48 countries will generate around $1bn more income from greater television rights and sponsorship. Infantino has promised that the money will be reinvested in football, with all member countries getting investment to aid development.
Responding to criticism from the German football association (DFB) and European Club Association (ECA), which said the decision had been made for “political reasons rather than sporting ones”, Infantino said: “We are in the 21st century, and we should shape the World Cup for the 21st century. Football is more than Europe and South America; football is global.”
Football will now take a bloody long time, with 104 games to decide the world champions.
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