Friday Newsletter: FIFA Considering Four-Team Groups for World Cup 2026
Change would remove disastrous collusion possibilities with three-team groups and provide more revenue for FIFA with 104 games instead of 80
When World Cup 2026 comes to the United States, Mexico and Canada, the tournament will expand from 32 to 48 teams. We already know this. But a big question all along has been: How will the format work? FIFA has said to this point that World Cup ‘26 will depart from the format we have grown accustomed to (with four-team groups) and have 16 opening-stage groups with three teams in each one.
Indeed, everyone during the recent FIFA show revealing the ‘26 host cities talked about the tournament having 80 total games (the number that would go with having three teams in each group).
But there’s an obvious giant problem with groups of three: You can’t play simultaneous games on the group’s final matchday, which could encourage teams to agree to play to a mutually-beneficial result—as we saw in the infamous Disgrace of Gijón in 1982, when Germany beat Austria 1-0, allowing both teams to advance at the expense of Algeria. That game caused FIFA to move to the simultaneous final-matchday group games that we’ve gotten used to over the years.
Three-team groups at World Cup 2026 are a collusion disaster waiting to happen. But the good news is that they may not come to pass after all. CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani told Martyn Ziegler of The Times of London in April that “I don’t think 16 groups of three is set in stone,” and a source with knowledge of the situation tells me that FIFA is now considering having 12 groups of four teams each for World Cup ‘26.
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