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World Cup 2026: FIFA in talks about abandoning three-team group format for North American tournament

FIFA are in talks of abandoning the three-team group format that was set to be introduced at the 2026 World Cup in North America.

The next World Cup, which will be jointly held between the United States, Canada and Mexico, will feature 48 teams, 16 more than the current format.

When plans were announced for the tournament in 2017, FIFA also revealed the group stage will see three groups of 16, with the top two qualifying for the knockout stages, which would begin with the last 32.

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It was met with criticism from several key football names including La Liga president Javier Tebas and former German national team coach Joachim Lom.

The likelihood of two teams making a deal in the final group match to go through would increase with the three-team group format, as would the possibility of teams reaching the knockout stage on fair play due to an equal number of points, goal difference, goals scored and the head-to-head record.

This happened in 2018 when Japan advanced, rather than Senegal, to the last 16 because they had less yellow cards.

Henry Martín en el Arabia Saudí-México.

Image credit: Getty Images

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It nearly occurred again this week between Poland and Mexico, but a late Saudi Arabia goal stopped the situation from taking place.

FIFA’s argument for the new format was the teams that reached the final would still play seven matches over the 32-day period, with a date for the 2026 World Cup yet to be confirmed.

However, according to multiple reports, “informal talks” have been held about the potential to have 12 groups of four instead.

This would mean an increase in the number of matches, as each team would play an extra match.

The top two teams, plus the eight best third placed teams would qualify for the knockout stages.

Any decision will not be announced until 2023 at the earliest.

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