The suggested format might change for the 2026 World Cup.
Arsene Wenger, the current head of global football for FIFA and a former coach of Arsenal FC, reportedly suggested that the 2026 World Cup’s current 16 groups of three teams could be scrapped in an ESPNFC report.
What is the Group of 3 Format
48 teams will be split into 16 groups of three for the 2026 World Cup, which the United States, Canada, and Mexico will host. Each team will play two matches, with the top two teams in each group moving on to the Round of 32.
The tournament would have had a total of 80 matches as a result. However, in that structure, 2 teams could play out a specified outcome to advance, leaving 1 team to watch from the sidelines.
FIFA has reportedly decided to rethink this structure in light of the massive action and drama from the last matchdays of the 2022 World Cup group stage.
When FIFA move to a 48-team World Cup in 2026, the format is absolutely crucial to get right. Anything that dilutes the levels of jeopardy and drama should be rejected. So forget 3-team groups. Horrible idea.
— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) December 2, 2022
What are the other formats proposed?
According to the ESPNFC report, two new formats have been suggested.
The first would create 12 groups of four teams, with the top two teams from each group advancing through to the Round of 32. The top 8 teams finishing in third place would also progress to the knockout Round.
The second suggested model would divide the competition into two 24-team mini-tournaments, each with six groups of four teams to create a knockout stage of 16. The World Cup final would feature the winners of each minor event.
The number of matches would increase from 80 under the “Group of 3” model to 104 under both suggested forms. The 2026 World Cup tournament’s organisers should be fine accommodating the extra matches because 16 locations are planned to host games.
As third-place teams could still advance to the knockout stage, it would also heighten the drama for the final matchdays of the group stage. It would mean three guaranteed matches in the group stage instead of two for spectators during the tournament.