FIFA is set to approve plans on Tuesday for the biggest-ever World Cup in 2026.
At a meeting of the FIFA Council in Kigali, Rwanda, it will be confirmed that there will be 104 games in 2026 instead of the 64 games which were played in Qatar last year.
The extra 40 games are needed because the tournament is expanding from 32 to 48 teams.
The 2026 tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada will have 12 groups of four teams. The top two teams will advance to a round of 32 with the eight best third-placed teams.
FIFA had been considering a format of 12 groups of three teams, but the excitement generated by the traditional four-team group format used in the Qatar World Cup has helped to convince the FIFA Council to stick with four-team groups.
The combined number of rest, release and tournament days remains the same as previous World Cups in 2010, 2014 and 2018 – 56 days.
It means teams reaching the final will now have to play eight matches, rather than the seven played by Qatar 2022 finalists Argentina and France.
The final in the United States is due to be on Sunday July 19, 2026.
PFA CEO Maheta Molango has criticised the FIFA proposals. He said: “Fundamentally, the football calendar needs a complete reset.
“The expanded World Cup format being announced for 2026 means that, yet again, more games are being forced into an already overcrowded schedule.
“It is right that FIFA have listened to players’ concerns and announced a working group to address the critical issues surrounding fixture congestion and player welfare.
“However, it’s very difficult to see how that aligns with the constant expansion of the domestic and international calendar.
“We know that the current workload players face is having an ongoing impact on their wellbeing, both on and off the pitch. We can’t simply push them until they break.”
Why FIFA had a ‘rethink’ over World Cup format
Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
“FIFA had a problem because this is going to be the first World Cup with 48 teams so they were trying to work out how it was going to be organised.
“It was going to be 16 groups of three teams and you could have had the situation where two teams would have only played two games before being knocked out and going home.
“FIFA had a rethink, which was accelerated by the World Cup in Qatar. FIFA thought the Qatar World Cup was exciting – there was so much jeopardy and so much at stake.
“That’s why they have had a look at it again and at this FIFA Council meeting in Rwanda, it is going to be officially approved.
“A lot of traditionalists will say they are unhappy with 48 teams because it is too many teams and the quality is going to suffer. It is also bad for the environment having more teams flying around Mexico, Canada and the USA.
“The other argument, though, is that FIFA is made of 211 different countries and of those countries only 78 have ever played in the World Cup, so they have been lobbying FIFA to say they need to have a chance to play in the World Cup otherwise their standards of football aren’t going to improve.
“If you look at the slot allocation, at the World Cup in Qatar we only had five countries from Africa even though there are 54 African countries that are members of FIFA.
“Their slot allocation is going to go up from five to nine, there are now going to be eight teams from Asia, six teams from Concacaf so if you take off your blinkers and look at football not just from a western European perspective, the rest of the world – well, the people I speak to – do like that the World Cup will be expanded and it really will be the World Cup.”
FIFA expands Club World Cup and approves new tournament
Also approved by the FIFA Council in Rwanda were plans for an expanded Club World Cup which will see Chelsea play in the first edition in the summer of 2025.
The four Champions League winners from 2021 to 2024 will qualify for the tournament, which guarantees a place for Chelsea and last year’s victors Real Madrid, plus the 2023 and 2024 winners.
Twelve of the 32 teams taking part will be from Europe and the tournament will be held every four years. The remaining eight European places are likely to be allocated according to UEFA club co-efficient rankings.
This year’s seven-team tournament is being held in Saudi Arabia in December.
Real Madrid won the 2022 Club World Cup in Morocco last month, beating Al-Hilal 5-3 in the final of the seven-team tournament.
In addition, the FIFA Council also unanimously approved plans for a new annual competition between the champions of its six confederations.
The first competition will be held next year and will feature the Champions League winners playing the winners of the international confederations play-offs.
This competition will replace the current seven-team format of the Club World Cup, meaning the 2023 Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia will be the last in the current format.
The new – and as yet unnamed – competition will begin in 2024, followed by the reworked Club World Cup a year later.