FIFA will screw up 2026 World Cup format, but new plan presents new pros and cons

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The men’s World Cup will move from 32 teams in Qatar to 48 teams in North America in 2026. (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Six years after initially agreeing to change the format of the men’s World Cup, FIFA leaders are set to scrap their ill-fated plan for three-team groups and approve a new format for the 2026 tournament – US 48-team bonanza, hosted by Canada and Mexico.

The new format would be similar to the traditional one: four-team groups and an additional 32-team knockout stage, According To reports on Tuesday.

But it would be cumbersome in its own way: the eight third-place teams would qualify for the Round of 32; There will be 104 matches compared to 64 for the full tournament, a vast expansion that will increase the burden on both the host cities and the players; And it will last a whole week longer than ever.

The changes have not yet been ratified by soccer’s global governing body, FIFA, but should be soon. A source told Yahoo Sports last week that the switch from groups of three to groups of four was almost certain. And on Tuesday, FIFA’s council, its most powerful decision-making body, will reportedly approve the changes at a meeting in Rwanda.

This would mark the end of years of conflict between FIFA’s initial proposal and common sense. And it will be the first of many eagerly awaited decisions on how exactly the 2026 World Cup in North America will work.

What is the new format of the World Cup?

The new format is similar to that used in earlier 24-team tournaments such as the Women’s World Cup and the men’s Euros – which is twice the size.

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The 48 teams will be drawn into 12 groups of four. The top two in each group will advance. The third-place teams will be ranked based on points, goal difference and other tiebreakers if necessary, and the top eight out of 12 will advance to the knockout stage – which starts with the round of 32 before progressing as in the old format. Will happen.

How long will all this take?

Since 1998, the 32-team men’s World Cup has seen 64 played over roughly 32 days.

FIFA’s initial expansion plan, to 16 groups of three, would have added 16 but squeezed them into the same time window.

The revamped tournament will instead run for 39-40 days.

To fit it onto its already packed soccer calendar, FIFA would Allegedly shorten the period before the World Cup during which players must be released by clubs to national teams from 23 days to 16 days – meaning that the tournament’s “footprint” will remain the same for almost two months.

What does this mean for North American host cities?

The news is perhaps most important for the 16 North American cities already preparing to host the Games.

When FIFA members jointly chose the US, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup, the tentative agreement between the North American neighbors was for 60 and Canada and Mexico for 10 games each. The 11 US cities selected last June were working on the assumption that they would each get five or six games.

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That estimate has now been revised down to six or seven – and perhaps, for some US cities, eight. It is unclear how the matches will now be split between the three host nations.

As expected, local organizers have also been told that the tournament will take place in June and July (despite the potentially dangerous heat).

FIFA’s impending draft announcement now clears the way for the crafting of a schedule shell and the assignment of specific games — for example, the opener and final — to specific cities. Those decisions are expected in the next 12 months.

Multiple sources have told Yahoo Sports that New York (MetLife Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium) and Los Angeles ( Stadium) are three candidates to host the finals.

What is the financial impact of the new format?

The biggest beneficiary of the new format will be FIFA’s bank accounts. The 2026 World Cup, even as an 80-game event, will break all kinds of records for attendance and revenue. The additional 24 would push FIFA closer to, and perhaps even beyond, the $11 billion in revenue budgeted for the next four years. (That’s up from the previous cycle’s record $7.5 billion.)

While FIFA will hand over many of the World Cup hosting responsibilities – and by extension, some of the expenses and revenues – to local organizing committees in 2023 and 2026, it will run the World Cup itself. FIFA, therefore, will pocket the vast majority of World Cup-related profits – and send the vast majority of that money back to football among its 211 member confederations.

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What are the drawbacks?

The new format will ask for more players, but not more – the last four teams will play eight games, just one more than the previous seven.

Perhaps the biggest cheat in the group stage is the stakes – or lack thereof.

When third-place teams move on, early stumbles won’t be as consequential as they once were. Take the 2022 World Cup as a counter-example. After Argentina’s shocking defeat to Saudi Arabia, every Albiceleste The game felt like a do-or-die final; Whenever Lionel Messi took to the field against Mexico and Poland in the group stage, there was a nagging fear that This time May be his last.

On the other hand, the 2026 World Cup will provide far less drama. Many contenders will already be safe in the round of 32 after two group matches – and in some cases, one after the other. The tournament would spend 72 over approximately three weeks to eliminate only 16 teams.