"The new format notably mitigates the risk of collusion and guarantees a minimum of three matches for each team, with a balanced rest period between the competing teams", argues in a press release the Council of Fifa, meeting in Kigali before its Congress. .

In detail, the first two of each group as well as "the eight best third" will reach the sixteenth finals, specifies the organization, extending by one stage the knockout phase, which currently starts in the round of 16.

The future champions, vice-world champions and unfortunate semi-finalists will therefore play eight games, compared to seven today, but the overall burden of the tournament for the clubs that release them will remain unchanged.

Knowing this explosive theme, both players' representatives and their employers rant against the overload of the international calendar and the risk of injury, Fifa has blocked the mandatory release period at 56 days, "as in 2010, 2014 and 2018" , while it had been shortened during the World Cup-2022 in Qatar disputed in the middle of the European season.

the hens of three abandoned

The duration of the North American tournament is not yet known, but participants will join their selections on May 25 - for a shortened preparation period - and can start dreaming of the final scheduled for July 19, 2026.

The location of the meeting, which remains to be decided, will be among the sixteen host cities announced in June 2022, i.e. eleven in the United States (Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia , Miami, New York), three in Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey) and two in Canada (Toronto and Vancouver).

The teams in the final phase of the World Cup © Paz PIZARRO, Cléa PÉCULIER / AFP

Approved in 2017, the passage of the Men's Football World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026 forced a review of the format, which had provided since 1998 for a group stage with eight groups of four teams, the first two winning their ticket for the quarter-finals.

How to preserve the spectacle without blowing up the overall size of the tournament, beyond its current 64 matches?

Fifa initially considered 16 groups of three teams, with the top two from each group advancing to the round of 32, giving 80 fixtures in total.

Record revenue expected

But this formula, unusual in football where pools of four are the rule at the Euro or in the Champions League, posed a difficulty: the risks of an arrangement between teams before the third match, which had led Fifa to consider the holding extra time or even a penalty shootout at the end of regulation time to avoid draws.

The body's thinking also changed with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the breathtaking outcome of its group stage, in particular in group E (Germany-Spain-Japan-Costa Rica), where each team was virtually qualified in the last 90 minutes.

On Tuesday, she explained that she had taken into account "the sporting integrity, the health of the players, the travel of the teams, the commercial and sporting attractiveness as well as the experience of the teams and the spectators", to give up the groups of three.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino, a fervent defender of the 48-team World Cup, speaking at the Fifa Best ceremony in Paris, February 27, 2023 © FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Archives

The World-2026 must be that of all commercial records for the organization based in Zurich, while the manna of the men's tournament represents the main part of the income which it then redistributes to its 211 member federations.

In mid-February, even before endorsing the format, Fifa was counting on a jump in revenue to 11 billion dollars (10.25 billion euros) over the 2023-2026 cycle, i.e. 44.7% more than in 2019-2022.

© 2023 AFP