The 2026 World Cup match schedule in North America begins with a record number of groups. The unique number of no less than 48 countries qualifying for the global final round are divided into twelve groups in the group stage. Each group will therefore consist of four countries. The twelve groups are designated A to L at the final round of the World Cup Football. In each group, the two countries that end at the top in a round-robin tournament advance to the knockout stage, as well as the eight best numbers three. This follow-up stage counts 12 times 2 + 8 = 32 national teams and therefore starts with the round of 32: a first in World Cup soccer history.
The four worst numbers three and the numbers four of the twelve groups say their farewells to the tournament. As mentioned, not only the amount of teams, but also the schedule with the round of 32 is a first: in the past, the World Cup schedule would proceed to the round of 16 after the first round.
Four countries per group
A familiar feature of the group structure during the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada, and Mexico is the format of four countries per group. Also in previous editions of the FIFA World Cup there were four teams per group. Originally there was the idea of a schedule with sixteen groups of three, but this has remained only a (BID)plan.
Group stage matches: no ties, direct decision Secondly, the new format results in the unique fact that a group match cannot end in a tie. If the score is still tied after 90 minutes of play, penalty kicks will immediately follow to decide the match (without playing an extension first). Update: as on March 14, 2023 the FIFA decided not to have a sixteen-poules-of-three format, the original BID plan to prevent ties in the group stage has been cancelled as well.
Nine days between nations first matches
Another consequence of the record number of 48 participants is that there are nine days between the dates on which the first and last countries first enter a match. Update March 14, 2023: this is not yet final.
Knock out system starts with round of 32
For the remainder of the tournament, the schedule will continue according to the traditional knockout system. The round of 32, the round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final consist of one match. In case of a tie at the end of the regular match time, two 15-minute extensions will follow. If this does not yield a winner, it will go to penalties.
A total of 104 matches are scheduled for the World Cup in North America. Previously, there were a maximum of ‘only’ 64 matches. In other words, there are no fewer than 40 (!) more matches scheduled for the World Cup in North America. The 104 matches in the 2026 World Cup are divided into 72 group matches (in groups A to L) + 16 x round of 32 + 8 x 8th finals + 4 x quarterfinals + 2 x semifinals + 1 match for third place and, of course, the World Cup Final.
Subdivision matches in USA, Canada, Mexico
During the 2026 FIFA World Cup, there will be three round-robin matches in the group stage in one day, according to what the organization envisions. The schedule is currently still in draft form and is therefore still partly subject to change.
The winning BID United of the host countries, the USA, Canada and Mexico, included a subdivision of
60 matches in the United States, 10 matches in Canada, and 10 matches in Mexico. Update March 14, 2023: due to the change of format from sixteen pools of three to twelve pools of four, the original match division of the host nations will be changed.
In the BID, it has been proposed that
7 group matches, 2 round of 32 and one round of 16 will take place in both Canada and Mexico. This ‘results’ in 34 group matches, 12 round of 32, 6 round of 16, 4 quarterfinals, both semifinals, the third-place playoff, and the final match being played in the US. Update March 14, 2023: due to the change of format from sixteen pools of three to twelve pools of four, the original match division of the host nations will be changed.
World Cup 2026: kick-off times in four time zones
The kick-off times for the 104 World Cup matches in 2026 are still to be determined. There are four different time zones in the North American (candidate) host cities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The start times will only be confirmed after the announcement of the final World Cup host cities.
Opening match, semifinals and final 2026 World Cup North America: where?
The final of the 2026 World Cup in North America will be played in New York/New Jersey at the MetLife Stadium, though is subject to change. Date: Sunday 19 July. The opening match will be in Los Angeles (Rose Bowl). Update June 16, 2022: the Rose Bowl has not been selected as a host city – or Mexico City (Azteca Stadium). Date of the opening match: Sunday, May 31, 2026. The semifinals have also been mentioned in the BID United: those will, subject to change, be played in Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and Dallas (AT&T Stadium). The other choices for which matches in which cities are still to be assigned. The list of 23 candidate host cities has in the meantime already been reduced to 16.
The FIFA countries in six continental zones will distribute the 48 starting certificates by playing qualification matches in the period 2023 – 2025.
UPDATE MARCH 14, 2023: 12 GROUPS OF FOUR
FIFA has announced on Tuesday 14 March 2023 that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will start with twelve groups of four. The knockout phase starts with the sixteenth finals. This means that a total of 104 matches are scheduled for the World Cup in North America. The tournament in the three host countries, United States, Mexico and Canada, lasts 40 game days. The opening match is on Sunday, May 31, 2026. The final of the World Cup is on Sunday, July 19, 2026.
From the group stage, the numbers one, numbers two and the eight best numbers three advance to the next round, the sixteenth finals. FIFA announced this schedule change at the FIFA Council, March 14, 2023, in Kigali, Rwanda. During that meeting, the international match calendars were approved.
The original plan for sixteen groups of three countries for the World Cup in North America has therefore been cancelled.
The World Cup has 48 countries for the first time. During the previous World Cup, in 2022, there were 32 teams. The upcoming World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico will, with 40 match days in total, last eleven days more than the 29 match days at the previous World Cup in Qatar.
Further on this page and website you will find the updated original information. However, as mentioned, the plans for the format have now been changed from sixteen groups of three into to twelve groups of four.