FIFA will reportedly approve further expansion of North America’s 2026 World Cup on Tuesday, adding 24 more games to what was already planned to be the longest tournament in the event’s history.
Under the proposed changes, 48 teams will play 104 games over as many as 40 days in the United States, Canada and Mexico, with the champion and runner-up each playing eight games rather then the current seven. The governing council of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body and the World Cup organizer, is expected to make the expansion official, according to multiple reports citing unnamed people familiar with the discussions, at its meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.
FIFA had already planned to expand from the 32-team format that has been in place since 1998. Preliminary conversations had considered splitting the expanded 48-team field into 16 groups of three — a format that would have required 80 total games, up from 64 in the existing format — but FIFA has apparently reconsidered, choosing to go with 12 groups of four teams and 104 total games. Officials’ concerns centered on the possible manipulation of three-team groups and the fact that teams could be eliminated after only two games.
Gianni Infantino, who will be presiding over the first version of the men’s World Cup to have been awarded since he became FIFA’s president in 2016, reportedly met with the leaders of the sport’s six confederations Monday night, and no objections were raised to the proposed plan. The plan is expected to be formally confirmed after FIFA’s 36-member governing council meets Tuesday.
The further expansion would not come without controversy, because it would mean the tournament could run for 40 days, compared with the 28 days of the Qatar competition. That would contribute to an already heavy schedule for the game’s top stars. The sport’s smaller nations have welcomed expansion, hoping to make the kind of underdog run Morocco made in last year’s World Cup. A larger tournament also means added billions in revenue, even as some have claimed the quality of the event will be diminished.
Victor Montagliani, the president of Concacaf, the North American confederation, recently expressed concern about an already crammed soccer calendar. One solution might be a shorter warmup period, although not as short as Qatar’s seven-day lead-up, which was truncated because last year’s event was held in the fall during the sport’s club season.
“We do have to be responsible,” he said at the Financial Times’ Business of Football conference this month. “There was a footprint of days for 2014 and 2018 and we can’t go over that. We can’t have a three-month World Cup.”