FIFA Announce Key Changes To 2026 World Cup Finals

By Ian John
March 20, 2023

It may still be over three years away at present, but FIFA have been finalizing plans for the 2026 World Cup Finals to be played in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

And at their last meeting, the football organizing body has announced a number of key changes to the format of the tournament.

It is going to be interesting to see whether the changes announced have any effect on the latest betting on who will win the 2026 World Cup, with France the 9/2 favourites ahead of Brazil on 6/1, England at 8/1 and Spain and the last winners, Argentina, are both 9/1.

All of those prices were available at the time of writing in the futures market at bet365 Sport.

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So what were the key changes made to the 2026 World Cup Finals and which of these proposed changes has now been changed once again in the last week or so?

Let’s take a closer look to find out.

World Cup 2026 – Key Changes Proposed Initially

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup Finals, FIFA announced that there would be a number of changes to the 2026 tournament format.

The changes that the organisational body originally confirmed were as follows:

  • An expansion of the tournament from 32 to 48 teams.
  • An increase in the number of Finals Groups to be contested from 8 groups of four teams, to 16 groups of 3 teams.
  • The World Cup to be moved back to the northern hemisphere summer.
  • World Cup to be completed in 32 days, as was the case in the 2014 and 2018 tournaments.

Lukewarm Reception And Potential Collusion

After FIFA made the initial announcement of the expansion of the 2026 World Cup Finals to include more teams, there were several outspoken critics of the decision including the former German national team coach Joachim Low, La Liga president Javier Tebas, and the European Club Association.

They all argued that players play too much football as it is and that by adding further teams, the World Cup would be diluted of quality fixtures.

However, more concerning was the fact that by having 16 groups of 3 teams at the finals, the risk of collusion between two teams was far greater.

This had already happened in the 1982 World Cup Finals when Austria and Germany played out a 1-0 win for Germany with neither team attacking after Germany scored the goal, meaning that both went through and Algeria were eliminated on goal difference.

Ahead of this year’s World Cup Finals, FIFA announced that while it had stated its intention to use the 16-group format, they were still evaluating which was the best option for the Group Stage.

Recent Announcement Confirms Key Change

A final decision on the matter came on the 14th March 2023, when after a meeting in Africa, the FIFA Council changed their mind over using the 16-team format and instead opted for 12 groups of four teams.

This meant that the format of qualifying from the groups would also have to be changed. The top two teams from each of the 12 groups would qualify, along with the eight best third placed teams from the tournament.

That would mean the introduction of a new Round of 32, which would mean each team that reaches the final would play eight games instead of seven.

In addition, to allow for the extra fixtures, which will increase markedly from 64 to 104 games, the tournament will be completed in 39 days.

FIFA also confirmed that it had altered the initial group phase of the tournament for a number of reasons. Firstly, to prevent collusion and secondly, the fact that the final group games at the Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals produced so much excitement in the tournament, FIFA felt that it would be prudent to ensure this element of the competition should remain for the foreseeable future.

The Revised Format Of The 2026 World Cup Finals

  • Phase 1 – Qualifying – 45 teams qualify for the Finals alongside the 3 host nations, Mexico, Canada and the United States.
  • Phase 2 – World Cup Finals Group Stages – 12 groups of 4 teams. Teams play each other once in the group stage. The top two teams in each group qualify for the next phase, along with the eight third placed teams that have the best record. (72 matches)
  • Phase 3 – Round of 32 – The 32 qualifiers from the Group Stages will be seeded into the Round of 32 depending on which position they qualified from their group. (16 matches)
  • Phase 4– Round of 16 – Winners of the Round of 32 will meet in the Round of 16 (8 matches)
  • Phase 5 – Quarter Finals – Winners of Round of 16 play in the quarter finals (4 matches)
  • Phase 6 – Semi Finals – Winners of the quarterfinals play in the semis (2 matches)
  • Phase 7 – Final & 3rd Place match – Losing semi-finalists play in the 3rd place match, winners of semifinals contest the World Cup Final.
  • Length of Tournament – Increased from 32 days to 39 days.

Positives And Negatives Of The Decision?

In general, the top teams are not in favour of any expansion of the World Cup, arguing that their players, who they pay, are already playing too many games.

However, for fans who love the World Cup spectacle, as well as national teams from developing regions who have tended to struggle to qualify for 16, 24 or even 32 team World Cup Finals tournaments, the news has been welcomed.

Broadcasters too will be delighted that the World Cup will see the number of games played increased markedly to 104 games in total.

The decision to increase the size of the tournament considerably also has implications for future World Cup host bidders, with countries now expected to be able to cope with that number of games, with enough venues and to have the infrastructure in place to run a 48-team finals.

That has led to a number of countries teaming up to bid together to host future World Cup Finals tournaments.

One thing is sure though, an expanded World Cup will mean plenty more action for betting fans and given the success of the 2022 World Cup Finals in Qatar, that is good news for punters and football fans in general.

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