2026 World Cup Will Feature 48 Teams in 12 Groups, FIFA Confirms
The expanded 2026 men’s World Cup in North America will start with 12 groups of four teams in a change from the original planned format of 16 groups of three, football’s world governing body FIFA announced on Tuesday.
The next World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico will be the first to feature 48 teams, a sharp increase from the 32 sides at last year’s tournament in Qatar.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches, while providing balanced rest time between competing teams,” FIFA said.
It means that there will be 104 matches, a huge rise compared to the 64 games played in the 2022 tournament and an increase even on the original plan that the 2026 World Cup would feature 80 matches.
FIFA’s initial plan for 2026 was for 16 groups of three teams, from which the top two countries would advance to the last 32.
The new decided format means the top two in each group will go through to the knockout round along with the eight best third-placed sides.
As a result, the finalists, and the teams finishing third and fourth, will play a total of eight games instead of the current seven.
The decision comes after a dramatic and entertaining group stage at the tournament in Qatar convinced FIFA that a rethink to its original 2026 blueprint was needed.
“The groups of four have been absolutely incredible until the last minute of the last match,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in December.
Tuesday’s decision was announced following a FIFA Council meeting in the Rwandan capital Kigali, at which it confirmed the next men’s World Cup final will be played on Sunday, July 19, 2026.
FIFA said that the total number of days between when clubs must stop playing and release players for international duty, and the final, would be 56, identical to the previous three tournaments.
Nevertheless the World Cup itself may be played over a longer period, after Qatar 2022 was held over just 29 days.
– Expanded Club World Cup –
Infantino is expected to be waved in for a new four-year term as president as he stands unopposed for re-election at Thursday’s FIFA Congress.
Expanding the World Cup had been a priority for Infantino following his election in 2016, when he took over from the disgraced Sepp Blatter at the head of world football.
The last World Cup in North America, in the United States in 1994, featured just 24 teams before it grew to feature 32 teams in France four years later.
The number of venues for the 2026 finals will double, from eight stadiums in Qatar last year to 16.
Eleven venues will be in the USA, with three in Mexico and two in Canada.
FIFA has projected a huge increase in revenues in the four-year cycle leading up to 2026, up to $11 billion from $7.5 billion in the four years up to 2022.
The body is also hoping that a new, expanded 32-team Club World Cup will boost revenues too.
FIFA said Tuesday the competition will start in June 2025 and will be held every four years with club rankings determining qualifiers.
However, an annual competition will also be held, similar to the existing seven-team Club World Cup which is to be discontinued after the 2023 edition.
The yearly competition will involve the six continental club champions and conclude with a final at a neutral venue between the winner of the UEFA Champions League and the winner of play-offs between the other teams.
The annual tournament was approved “given the need expressed by the confederations for the champions of their premier club competitions to play each other annually to stimulate competitiveness”, FIFA said.
Organ Harvesting: UK Court Convicts Ekweremadu, Wife, Doctor
Former Nigerian Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, wife and a doctor have been convicted of organ trafficking, in the first verdict of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act.
The 60-year-old politician, his wife, Beatrice, 56, and Dr Obinna Obeta, 51, were found guilty of facilitating the travel of a young man to Britain with a view to his exploitation, after a six-week trial at the Old Bailey, according to the UK Guardian.
They criminally conspired to bring the 21-year-old Lagos street trader to London to exploit him for his kidney, the jury found.
The UK Guardian said he could not reveal the name of the donor for legal reasons, adding that he had been offered an illegal reward to offer his kidney to the senator’s daughter.
It also said Sonia’s kidney disease forced her to drop out of a master’s degree in film at Newcastle University, the court heard as it said Sonia was found not guilty.
In February 2022 the man was falsely presented to a private renal unit at Royal Free hospital in London as Sonia’s cousin in a failed attempt to persuade medics to carry out an £80,000 transplant.
For a fee, a medical secretary at the hospital acted as an Igbo translator between the man and the doctors to help try to convince them he was an altruistic donor, the court heard.
The prosecutor Hugh Davies KC told the court that Ekweremadus and Obeta had treated the man and other potential donors as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward”. He said they entered an “emotionally cold commercial transaction” with the man.
Ekweremadu’s attitude as a successful lawyer and founder of an anti-poverty charity who helped draw up Nigeria’s laws against organ trafficking portrayed “entitlement, dishonesty and hypocrisy”, Davies told the jury.
Davies said Ekweremadu, who owns several properties and had a staff of 80, “agreed to reward someone for a kidney for his daughter – somebody in circumstances of poverty and from whom he distanced himself and made no inquiries, and with whom, for his own political protection, he wanted no direct contact”.
He added, “What he agreed to do was not simply expedient in the clinical interests of his daughter, Sonia, it was exploitation, it was criminal.
“It is no defence to say he acted out of love for his daughter. Her clinical needs cannot come at the expense of the exploitation of somebody in poverty.”
Ekweremadu, who denied the charge, told the court he was the victim of a scam. Obeta, who also denied the charge, claimed the man was not offered a reward for his kidney and was acting altruistically. Beatrice denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. Sonia did not give evidence.
WhatsApp messages showed to the court revealed Obeta charged Ekweremadu N4.5 million (about £8,000) made up of an “agent fee” and a “donor fee”.
Ekweremadu and Obeta admitted falsely claiming the man was Sonia’s cousin in his visa application and in documents presented to the hospital.
Davies said Ekweremadu ignored medical advice to find a donor for his daughter among genuine family members.
He said: “At no point in time was there ever any intention for a family member close, medium or distant to do what could be paid for from a pool of donors.”
The judge, Justice Jeremy Johnson, will pass a sentence on 5 May.
UK Plans to Sanction Electoral Offenders, Collates List
The British High Commission has said the UK Minister of State for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell MP, is prepared to take action against those who engaged in or incited electoral violence during the just-concluded general elections.
The commission said the UK was already collating names of perpetrators and would impose sanctions “including preventing people from obtaining UK visas or imposing sanctions under our human rights sanctions regime.”
In a statement made available to our correspondent on Wednesday, the high commission said, “We can confirm that we are collating relevant information, with a view to taking action against some individuals.”
The high commission, which said it deployed observers in six states, noted, “There were notable points of concern. Members of our observation mission personally observed violence, and voter suppression in numerous voting locations. We witnessed and received credible reports from other observer missions and civil society organisations of vote buying and voter intimidation, the destruction and hijacking of election materials and the general disruption of the process in numerous states including Lagos, Enugu and Rivers.
“In addition, we observed incidents of harassment of journalists. Freedom of speech and a free press is crucial for a healthy democracy, and journalists must be able to go about their work without being threatened.
“The UK is concerned by the use of inflammatory ethnoreligious language by some public and political figures. We call on all leaders not just to distance themselves from this kind of language, but to prevent those who speak on their behalf from doing so in this way.
“It is a testament to their commitment to democracy that many Nigerians were prepared to vote despite being faced with intimidation and hostility.”
It, however, commended the Independent National Electoral Commission for improving on its performance during the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections on March 18.
INEC Declares LP’s Alex Otti Winner of Abia Guber Polls
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has declared Alex Otti of the Labour Party, LP, winner of the Abia state governorship election.
Otti defeated his closest rival, Okey Ahiwe of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to emerge winner.
The Labour Party candidate scored 175, 467, while Ahiwe polled 88,529.
INEC Returning Officer in the state, Prof Nnenna Nnannaya-Oti declared Otti the winner on Wednesday evening after the resumption of the final collation of governorship election results in Umuahia.
The electoral umpire had suspended the collation of results for 48 hours.
Reacting, Otti praised God for his victory at the poll.
Tweeting via his verified Twitter handle, Otti wrote: “See what the lord has done.”