FIFA is set to approve an expansion of the men’s World Cup today with 40 more matches from the 2026 tournament in North America, Sky News understands.
The decision to grow from 64 to 104 matches – rather than the 80 originally planned in 2026 – is due to come at a meeting of the governing body’s ruling council in Kigali, Rwanda.
Adding matches helps FIFA chase its target of more than £9bn in revenue but it also solves format issues for the event being co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
FIFA had already agreed to enlarge the tournament from 32 to 48 teams.
Rather than having 16 groups each featuring three teams, FIFA will have 12 groups each with four countries, sources say.
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The top two teams will advance to a round of 32 with the eight best third-placed teams.
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, 19 July 2026.
Analysis: How expanded format will affect tournament
This format will lead to a situation where some third-place teams will not know for days in some circumstances if they have qualified for the knockout phase.
But abandoning plans for three-team groups avoids the scenario where all the final group games are not played simultaneously.
That has been the case since 1986 after the 1982 World Cup game that became known as the “Disgrace of Gijon” when West Germany and Austria conspired to knock out Algeria.
A German win by one or two goals was needed for them and Austria to go through – and they played tepidly for a 1-0 victory.
In 2026, not only will the World Cup be played in more countries than ever before – three – it will also be the biggest and longest edition of the FIFA event.
FIFA has selected 16 cities in North America but the location of the final is yet to be decided.
Gianni Infantino was elected FIFA president in 2016 on a platform of expanding the men’s World Cup from the 32-team format that has been in place since France 1998.
He will be re-elected unopposed on Thursday at the FIFA Congress of all 211 member nations in Kigali for a second full term.
After scandals that toppled Sepp Blatter and threatened the future of FIFA, Mr Infantino was elected in 2016 to complete the rest of his disgraced predecessor’s term at a special election.
A private meeting overseen by him in Qatar in December disregarded his first three years in power as counting as his first term.
It allows him to stay in power beyond the 12-year limit envisaged in reforms of the scandal-plagued football body he helped to draw up in 2015.
So the former UEFA general secretary can seek another four-year term running world football from 2027 to 2031 – giving him 15 years in the job.
It’s understood 56 days would be needed for the pre-tournament availability of players and the World Cup itself – the same as the three World Cups before the winter schedule-disrupted Qatar 2022.
Concerns about the workload on players are set to be addressed by a new task force the FIFA Council is set to approve.
The aim is for a mandatory rest period every season for players. FIFA envisages a minimum of two full days between any two matches and ideally 72 hours.
The group considering the plans will include medics, union officials and football figures.
It will feed into the process that will restructure the international match calendars that determine when clubs must release players to play for their countries after plans were abandoned for the frequency of World Cups to be doubled to every two years.
The FIFA Council is also set to usher in an examination of further protections for the welfare of female players.
New employment rules were introduced by FIFA in 2021 mandate clubs to allow players at least 14 weeks of maternity leave paid at a minimum two-thirds of salary.
Now FIFA is looking at setting out rights for female players on adoption, abortion, menstrual health, multiple births, breastfeeding and childcare.
FIFA’s rules enabled Icelandic player Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir to secured more than £72,000 in back pay that was wrongly withheld by French club Lyon around the birth of her child in 2021.