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 sixteen groups in the group stage. Each group will therefore consist of three countries. The sixteen groups are designated A to P 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. This follow-up stage counts 16 times 2 = 32 national teams and therefore starts with the round of 32: a first in World Cup soccer history.
The numbers three of the sixteen 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.
Three countries per group
A unique feature of the group structure during the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada, and Mexico is, firstly, the three countries per group. In previous editions of the FIFA World Cup, there were always four.
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).
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.
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 80 matches are scheduled for the World Cup in North America. Previously, there were a maximum of 64 matches. The eighty matches in the 2026 World Cup are divided into 48 group matches (in groups A to P) + 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, includes a subdivision of 60 matches in the United States, 10 matches in Canada, and 10 matches in Mexico. 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.
World Cup 2026: kick-off times in four time zones
The kick-off times for the 80 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. The opening match will be in Los Angeles (Rose Bowl) or Mexico City (Azteca Stadium). The semifinals have also been mentioned in the BID United: those will be played in Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and Dallas (AT&T Stadium). The other host cities and matches are still to be assigned: the list of 23 candidate host cities will eventually be 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.