Big Changes Announced For 2026 FIFA World Cup - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Big Changes Announced For 2026 FIFA World Cup

We already knew the 2026 FIFA World Cup would be unlike any other with the tournament expanding to 48 teams. Now FIFA has announced a string of changes that will shake up the competition even further, revealing a new format featuring 12 groups and 104 total matches.

The FIFA Cup has come a long way since it’s inaugural 13-team competition way back in 1930. The beautiful game has gradually grown to become the world’s most popular sport. To accommodate this growth, the World Cup has had to expand. No longer are the top teams confined to the traditional powerhouse regions of Europe and South America. Exiting new teams are emerging and proving they can contend with the best. Meaning the conventional 32-team competition is long overdue for a reshuffle.

Despite rising talent levels across the globe, when FIFA announced in 2017 that the World Cup would be expanded, it still came as a shock to many. But now, FIFA’s new plans tell us that future competitions are going to get even more wild. And on top of the expanded format, the 2026 World Cup will be the first to be joint hosted by three nations, with the USA, Canada and Mexico bestowed with the honour.

This is how the new format will work, in the simplest terms we can explain it. The 48 teams that qualify for the World Cup will be split into 12 groups of four. Each team will play three group stage games. The top two teams and eight of the best third placed teams from each group advances to the next round. From there, each game is a knockout, beginning with the round of 32.

The expanded format means that tournament will include 104 total matches, a massive increase from the typical 64. Under the new system, teams that make the World Cup final will play eight total games, up from seven in previous iterations. And with so many extra games, it’s expected that the tournament’s length will also increase from it’s typical one month spot on the calendar.

The original plan for the format of the 48 team World Cup proposed 16 groups of three teams. Teams would only play two games to decide who advances. However, this system would allow for collusion between teams already in a position to advance before the final group stage match. FIFA has now ditched that plan, citing the risk of collusion as a driving factor for the change. “The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams.” FIFA said in a statement.

FIFA has its official reasons for the change. But it’s also possible the wildly entertaining group stage of last years World Cup influenced the decision. “The groups of four have been absolutely incredible until the last minute of the last match,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said during the tournament.

Africa, Asia, Oceania and North America are the big winners in the new qualification system. Each confederation has been awarded extra qualifying spots, while Europe and South America’s extra slots are limited. There’s good news for Australian fans too. With four extra qualifying places in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Socceroos should have an easier path to qualification in future tournaments.

The new qualification process in the AFC will see three groups of six teams competing in the third round. A sharp increase from the previous format’s two groups of six. The top two teams in each group will directly qualify for the World Cup. The runners up in third and fourth position will then battle it out for the final two spots.

The date of the 2026 World Cup final has also been set for July 19th, 2026. Although there’s still no word on which city will host the decider. With Sofi stadium in Los Angeles, Metlife stadium in New Jersey and AT&T stadium in Texas the current favourites.

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

More From

Bobby Hill
Bobby Hill on chasing another premiership, overcoming cancer and the importance of Indigenous Round

Bobby Hill on chasing another premiership, overcoming cancer and the importance of Indigenous Round

Following a whirlwind couple of years that saw him become a father, recover from testicular cancer, win an AFL premiership in his first season with a new club and take home the Norm Smith medal for best on ground in last year’s grand final, Collingwood forward and Whadjuk-Ballardong Noongar man Bobby Hill is still pushing for more. As he explains to Men’s Health, that includes showcasing his culture on the nation’s biggest stage

Vana Care: Revolutionizing Disability Support with a Health-First Approach

Vana Care: Revolutionizing Disability Support with a Health-First Approach

In the dynamic world of disability services, Vana Care shines as an exemplar of innovation, compassion, and a forward-thinking approach to health and lifestyle for individuals with disabilities. At its core, Vana Care's story is one of a deep-seated commitment to enriching lives through a unique blend of fitness, daily activity mentoring, and an unwavering belief in the potential of every individual.