FIFA switches back to four team group format

By Neo Poho

The 2026 FIFA World Cup will feature 12 four-team groups and a last 32 knockout round for the first time in the history of the World Cup.

The format for the 48-team tournament, to be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, was approved at a meeting of the FIFA Council in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday.

The move expands the competition from its projected 80 matches to 104 with FIFA stating the top two and eight best third-placed teams would progress to the last 32.

"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," said world football's governing body.

FIFA had been considering a format of 12 groups of three teams, but the excitement generated by the traditional four-team group format used in the Qatar World Cup has helped to convince the FIFA Council to stick with four-team groups.

The combined number of rest, release and tournament days remains the same as previous World Cups in 2010, 2014 and 2018 - 56 days.

With the new format of the FIFA World Cup being approved by FIFA, here are the allocations of guaranteed places in the 2026 FIFA World Cup for each confederation:

• Eight guaranteed places for the AFC
• Nine guaranteed places for the CAF
• Six guaranteed places for the CONCACAF 
• Six guaranteed places for the CONMEBOL
• 16 guaranteed places for the UEFA
• One guaranteed place for the OFC

The new format also means the teams reaching the final will now have to play eight matches, rather than the seven played by Qatar 2022 finalists Argentina and France.

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