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FIFA expands 2026 World Cup format to 104 matches

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2026 FIFA World Cup
Posted at 12:37 PM, Mar 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-14 13:50:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — FIFA has officially approved the World Cup format for 2026, which will expand to 48 teams and 104 matches being played, with the final set to be played in the United States on July 19, 2026.

The decision, approved by the FIFA Council during its meeting on Tuesday in Kigali, Rwanda, will make the 2026 World Cup not only the largest World Cup ever hosted, but also the longest, spanning 39 days.

The 104 scheduled matches will surpass the total matches played in the first five World Cups combined, which amounts to 101 total games.

The expansion means teams reaching the World Cup Final will have played eight matches instead of seven and will keep the group stage at four teams in each group, similar to the previous World Cups.

There will be one difference to the group stage format, with the eight best third-place teams also qualifying for the knockout stage, along with the first and second place teams, similar to the European Championship format.

FIFA had originally planned to expand the World Cup to 48 teams, but with only 80 proposed matches and groups of three nations.

However, concerns of match-fixing was seen a main drawback if the groups were set to only groups of three, with the infamous 1982 World Cup game between West Germany and Austria, known as the ‘Disgrace of Gijon,’ as a well-known example.

Despite the addition of more games and more days to the FIFA World Cup calendar, the total combined number of rest, release and tournament days will still remain the same as previous World Cups in 2010, 2014 and 2018, which were 56 days each.

The World Cup expansion also sets the possibility for Kansas City to host more World Cup games, with the addition of 28 more games added to the tournament. Kansas City was selected as a host city last summer, with GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium set to host the games.

The World Cupwas originally expected to generate at least $100+ million in revenue, but with the expansion to 104 games, that number could be higher now.

According to a 2018 study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, the United States Soccer Federation found that each World Cup host city could generate at least $160 million to $620 million in economic activity.

It is still unclear at the moment how the 104 matches will be split among the 16 host cities in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.