On Tuesday, FIFA’s Council changed the World Cup group stage format for 2026 to 12 groups of four teams from 16 groups of three teams and increased the total to 104 matches from 64 in the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
To win a World Cup, a nation will have to play eight games, up from the seven in place since 1974.
FIFA said 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.
The original format for the 2026 tournament in the U.S., Mexico and Canada was adopted by the Council in January 2017 when the World Cup was expanded from 32 nations to 48 starting in 2026. That format would have meant two teams playing on the final day of the group with one team off, which could lead to corruption.
The current schedule of having all teams in a group kick off simultaneously on the final day was adopted after the Disgrace of Gijón at the 1982 World Cup in Spain when West Germany and Austria knew that a one- or two-goal win by the Germans would advance both nations at the expense of Algeria, which played a day earlier. Horst Hrubesch scored in the 10th minute and neither team threatened after that as West Germany won 1-0.
I was never a fan of three team groups. The 3-team format was another ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ waiting to happen. Having 4-team groups will avoid that from happening - with both matches in Matchday 3 beginning at the same time.