The 2026 World Cup will feature 12 four-team groups and the final 32 qualifying rounds for the first time.
The format of the 48-team tournament, to be jointly hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico, was approved at a meeting. Fifa Council in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday.
The game’s global governing body has abandoned its 16 three-team group plans, recognizing the “risk of collusion” in this format and also being persuaded to stick with four-team groups after the drama unfolded at the end of the group stage. The final World Cup in Qatar, the last tournament featuring 32 teams.
The winners and runners-up in each of the 12 groups of four teams will advance to a new round of 32, where the top eight third-placed teams will participate. In total, the new format will include 104 matches being played.
Chelsea and Real Madrid have secured their place in FIFA’s new appearance in 2025, the 32-team Club World Cup, after the access list for this tournament was also approved by the Council.
Europe has 12 places in the new tournament, with the top four going to Champions League winners in each of the four years leading up to 2025. Chelsea were European champions in 2021 and Real won last year.
Europe’s other eight places in the new Club World Cup will be awarded according to a club ranking system during the four-year period leading up to the finals.
Manchester City and Liverpool are currently second and third respectively in the Uefa club coefficient rankings, so they could have a high qualifying chance.
However, the number of clubs per country will be limited to two, except where a country has more than two Champions League winners in a four-year period.
FIFA also said it wants to maintain an annual club competition from 2024. This will include Champions League winners facing the team coming out of the playoffs between the continental champions of the other five confederations on a neutral venue.
FIFA said the 2026 World Cup will have the same 56 days of rest, exit and tournament days as the three most recent summer finals in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
But the 2026 finals are expected to take 38 or 39 days, which means a preparation time of around 14 days. The 2014 and 2018 finals lasted 32 days.
The council also approved new men’s and women’s international match schedules at the meeting.
The men’s calendar is fixed for the period 2025-2030; The biggest change was the introduction of a 16-day, four-game international window in late September and early October, replacing the separate September and October windows currently in effect.
The 2024-25 women’s national match schedule includes six windows as it currently stands, with window types varying between confederations.
The Council also approved the establishment of a player welfare task force to look into the implementation of mandatory rest periods worldwide.
head of ffia Gianni Infantino “Our main goal is to be clear about this, recognizing that many regions need more competitive football, and making meaningful football matches while protecting the health of the players.”
Maheta Molango, president of the Professional Footballers’ Association, welcomed the announcement of a player welfare task force, but expressed deep concern about the 2026 World Cup plans.
“The football calendar needs to be completely reset,” he said.
“The expanded World Cup format announced for 2026 again means more games are forced into an already overcrowded schedule.
“It is true that FIFA is listening to players’ concerns and has announced a working group to address critical issues regarding fixture congestion and player well-being.
“It is encouraging to see that key concerns raised by the PFA with Fifa, such as having at least 72 hours between games, mandatory leave each week and annual rest, are prioritized.
“When Gianni Infantino came to Manchester last year to meet with us, these are the changes our Premier League and WSL members said they wanted to see.
“However, it is very difficult to see how this coincides with the continued expansion of the domestic and international calendar.
“We know that the current workload facing players is constantly affecting their health both on and off the pitch. We can’t just push them until they break.”