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Report: FIFA to abandon 2026 World Cup “Group of 3” format

There still will be 48 teams, but the original format appears to be abandoned.

FBL-WC-2026-VENUES Photo by YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

The 2026 World Cup could see a change in the proposed format. According to an ESPNFC report, Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal FC coach and FIFA’s current chief of global football, has indicated that soccer’s governing body could abandon the current 2026 World Cup format of 16 groups of 3.

Currently, the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, will see 48 teams divided into 16 groups of 3, with each team playing 2 matches and the top 2 in each group advancing to a Round of 32. That would have created a total of 80 matches in the tournament. However, that format would see 2 teams able to play out a specific result to advance with 1 team left on the sidelines to watch. That also creates the opportunity for collusion. Given the absolute incredible action and drama that has come from the final matchdays of the 2022 World Cup group stage, FIFA has apparently decided to revisit this format.

There are two additional formats that have been proposed, according to the ESPNFC report. The first would create 12 groups of 4 teams, from which the top 2 from each group would automatically advance to the Round of 32. The top 8 3rd place teams would also advance to the knockout stage.

The other proposed format is to split the tournament into two 24-team mini tournaments, with 6 groups of 4 teams in each mini tournament to create a knockout stage of 16. The winner of each mini tournament would meet in the World Cup final.

Both proposed formats would increase the number of matches from 80 under the “Group of 3” model to 104. The increase in matches shouldn’t be an issue for 2026 World Cup tournament organizers, as there are 16 venues slated to host matches. It would also increase the drama for the final matchdays of the group stage, as 3rd place teams may still qualify for the knockout stage. For USMNT fans, along with fans of other teams in the tournament, it would mean 3 guaranteed matches in the group stage instead of 2.

Hit the comments to discuss which 48-team format works best for the 2026 World Cup.