FIFA are considering changing the format of the 2026 World Cup from the initially proposed three-team groups back to the traditional four-team groups.
The next edition of the tournament is set to be held in North America and hosted across USA, Mexico and Canada as the number of teams grows from 32 to 48. FIFA’s original plan was to split the 48 teams into 12 three-team groups with the top two in each pool qualifying for a round of 32. However, informal discussions are underway to revert to the four-team groups which have been used since 1950.
A three-team group could rob the tournament of the potential drama provided by final group games being played at the same time, as seen in the Group E final round in Qatar with Costa Rica, Germany, Japan and Spain repeatedly switching positions throughout the second half as games were played simultaneously.
A 48-team World Cup featuring 12 groups of four teams could mean 104 games being played (up from 64 in Qatar) and eight third-placed teams for the 12 groups qualifying for a round of 32. A 48-team tournament featuring groups of three teams, meanwhile, would result in 80 games.
For now, FIFA’s position remains unchanged and any decision over a switch is likely not to come until the new year at the earliest. However, were FIFA to move back to four team groups, this would likely significantly extend the tournament with 72 group stage games needing to be played, up from 48 this time around, unless more games are squeezed into single days or more were to overlap.