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‘Chaotic’ format FIFA is mulling for 2026 World Cup

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2026 FIFA world Cup
2026 FIFA world Cup. Photo by The Economic Times
  • FIFA now faces the risk of changing everything in the 2026 FIFA World Cup
  • It may fall back to using a format that has been proven to keep hundreds of millions of viewers engaged
  • The initial plan was to have 16 groups of three teams in the first phase

FIFA now faces the risk of changing everything in the 2026 FIFA World Cup, producing the most thrilling World Cup group stage ever in Qatar.

It may fall back to using a format that has been proven to keep hundreds of millions of viewers engaged. With this new format, FIFA is taking a chance on a tedious week of dull matches and dead rubbers.

Further, the potential for unwelcome controversy in an effort to fit 48 teams at the North American edition in 2026. The world’s governing body of football is reconsidering the format for the upcoming World Cup.

The initial plan to have 16 groups of three teams in the first phase, with two from each moving on to the next stage, now appears dangerously dull and may even encourage unsportsmanlike behaviour.

As things stand right now, there is a chance of numerous “dead” matches for the 2026 World Cup, which Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host.

FIFA 2026 World Cup

FIFA 2026 World Cup. Photo by GQ India

For instance, if the last group game was played between two countries that had previously won one apiece and had thus already qualified.

FIFA admitted earlier this year that they were worried about the possibility of engineered results, in which two teams may engineer a favourable result for both, eliminating the third group side from the game.

In March, FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani noted, “It’s a subject that has been discussed.”

After the group round, the 48 teams will be reduced to 32 in the 2026 version, and the competition will proceed as a knockout event.

Alternative forms are being discussed, and the FIFA Council, the organization’s supreme cabinet, will decide on them in 2019.

There are either 12 groups of four teams, with the best third-place teams advancing alongside the top two, or an alternative to dividing the World Cup into two different halves of 24, with each having six groups of four teams, according to FIFA’s head of global football development Arsene Wenger. There would be a final between the winners of each half.

That seems like a more likely scenario, given how dramatic and thrilling some of the four-team groups in Qatar ended up becoming.

World Cup

The FIFA World Cup Trophy.|PHOTO: FIFA|

However, that will significantly increase the number of games. The 2026 finals will consist of 80 games spread over 32 days, as opposed to the 64 games played during the 32-team World Cup in Qatar that was concluded in 29 days.

There will be 104 matches, with four-team groups taking at least an additional week. Here, FIFA risks tampering with the delicate balance of all-consuming excitement that the World Cup has demonstrated in Qatar, turning it into a protracted event that loses its lustre with the level of entertainment diminished.

However, different games would mean more money from television rights, and since the World Cup accounts for 90% of FIFA’s income, its leaders will be tempted.

FIFA announced last month that the World Cup in Qatar had generated £6.1 billion in rights and sponsorship money, an increase of one billion over the finals in Russia in 2018.

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, but an outgoing sports writer with focus on tennis, athletics, football, motorsports and NBA.

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