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How World Cup 2026 will work with 104 matches, six games a day and 48 teams in biggest tournament ever

SO that’s a wrap on the smallest World Cup in living memory — now we can all get ready for the biggest.

Doha’s soaring skyscrapers, sparkling stadiums and gleaming Metro stations are now football’s past.

Lionel Messi led Argentina to the 2022 World Cup
Here’s a look at how the logistics of the 2026 World Cup will work

For all the talk of new frontiers and “bringing people together”, the truth is that Fifa are absolutely delighted to be saying goodbye to Qatar, the controversy and criticism.

Even before the suitcases were packed, thoughts were turning to the next incarnation of the event that does unite the world in passion.

A World Cup in three countries, not one city. In 16 venues, split across four time zones and thousands of miles — rather than the distance between Selhurst Park and Kenilworth Road.

With 48 teams, as opposed to the 32 that has been the norm since 1998. More from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Even, for the first time, a guaranteed slot for Oceania.

And, almost certainly, a record 104 MATCHES and 33 days as well.

It will be 12 groups of four but the real issues are over the next stage.

The easiest way would be the top two in each group, plus the eight best third-place teams, reaching the final 32 and eight games, instead of seven, required to win.

There are some arguments, though, that the best eight group winners should automatically go to the last 16, with the other four group winners plus the eight runners-up, playing off to join them.


That would mean 96 games not 104 — still the biggest World Cup by far, with only 64 matches in Qatar — but also cause issues.

Teams drawn in a “soft” opening group who won all three matches easily would be rewarded for the luck of the draw, while it would also change the concept that all sides must play the same number of games to win the biggest prize in football.

Another option is to split the 24 competing teams into two halves, with the “winner” of the two sections meeting in the final.

That would mean the top two joined by the four best third-place sides in their half — more sensible if the tournament is split into geographical “east” and “west” sections — even if they were not in the top eight third-place teams overall.

But the other factor that will be very different is the number of games each day in the group phase.

Qatar was condensed to 29 days, with four matches each day in the opening stage.

But the big European clubs will put huge pressure on Fifa to prevent an expanding tournament lasting any longer than 33 days maximum.

The solution is obvious — up to six games each day in the opening round although that is more possible in 2026 than in any other potential venue for the future.

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East Coast cities like New York and Boston are five hours behind the UK, while Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are a further three hours behind.

One scenario would see the first match of the day starting in, perhaps, Toronto at noon local time, which is 5pm in the UK.

Matches could then start every 2½ hours in Atlanta, Houston, Mexico City and Vancouver, with the last match in San Francisco beginning at 9.30pm local time — 5.30am at home. But there is still a problem for Fifa.

Broadcasters for the major European nations will demand earlier kick-offs and the first three games of the day — but you cannot have Spain, Germany, England, France, Portugal and Holland all in the same half of the draw.

Likewise, South American fans would prefer later, West Coast games.

Fifa attempted to justify the choice of Qatar by pointing to the limited distances teams had to travel and pushing green credentials, sustainability and carbon offsetting.

In 2026, driving between many of the cities is not feasible. Everyone will have to criss-cross Canada, Mexico and the States by plane.

You try to get a train from New York to Boston, let alone Seattle.

But that is for Gianni Infantino and Co to sort out. It won’t be easy.

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