Fifa has switched the format for the expanded 2026 World Cup back to four-team groups.
Fidel Info reports that The competition in the United States, Mexico and Canada was due to feature 16 groups of three because the number of teams is increasing from 32 to 48.
But the success of the four-team format at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar caused the governing body to reconsider.
The move expands the competition from its projected 80 matches to 104, including a new round-of-32 stage.
Fifa said the top two and eight best third-placed teams would progress to the last 32.
“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,” said world football’s governing body.
The move was approved at Fifa’s council meeting in Rwanda.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said in December that the governing body was considering a format change after the group stages in Qatar included some exciting final games.
The four-team group format, with the top two going through to the knockout stages, has been used since the men’s World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998.
The new round-of-32 stage means teams will have to play eight matches to win the tournament, compared to seven at the 2022 World Cup.
Fifa approved a men’s international match calendar from 2025-2030 and said that “based on the new calendar, the Fifa World Cup 2026 final will be played on Sunday, 19 July 2026”.
It added that the “mandatory” date for which clubs must release players for the tournament will start “on 25 May 2026, following the last official club match on 24 May 2026” and that “exemptions may apply to the final matches of confederation club competitions until 30 May 2026 subject to Fifa approval”.
The women’s international match calendar keeps its six international windows per year and includes the women’s Olympic football tournament, which will take place from 25 July to 10 August 2024.
A 32-team Club World Cup set for 2025
Fifa also approved the access list for the 32-team Fifa Club World Cup, which will take place every four years from June 2025.
Teams who win their confederation’s top tournament in “the four-year period of the seasons ending in 2021 and 2024” will qualify where they have enough places.
Europe has 12 places in the new tournament and Chelsea and Real Madrid, who won the Champions League in 2021 and 2022 respectively, have already secured their spots.
The other qualifying teams from each continent will be determined “by a club ranking based on the same four-year period”.
There will be a cap of two clubs per country with the exception being if more than two teams from the same country win their confederation’s premier tournament over the qualification period.
Fifa also wants to keep a yearly club competition and this will be “between the winner of the Uefa Champions League and the winner of intercontinental play-offs between the other confederations”.
What about the players?
Player organisations and club managers have regularly voiced concerns about the demands on players, and Fifa is to set up a task force to look at player welfare and “principles such as mandatory rest periods”.
“Our fundamental objective is to have clarity on this topic, and to have meaningful football matches while protecting the wellbeing of the players and recognising that many regions need more competitive football,” said Infantino.
However, the general secretary of players’ union Fifpro Jonas Baer-Hoffmann reiterated that “ongoing research provides new evidence of the excessive demands on elite players”.
“We are now observing a growing awareness among players about the harmful effects these pressures have on their performance, careers, and personal lives,” he added.
“They realise that their match calendar is not sustainable, affects their mental and physical health, and leaves them exposed, and without any protection, to an accelerated cycle of poorly coordinated competitions.”
Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) chief executive Maheta Molango said: “Fundamentally, the football calendar needs a complete reset.
“The expanded World Cup format being announced for 2026 means that, yet again, more games are being forced into an already overcrowded schedule.
“It is right that Fifa have listened to players’ concerns and announced a working group to address the critical issues surrounding fixture congestion and player welfare.”
“It is also encouraging to see that key concerns raised with Fifa by the PFA, such as the need for a minimum of 72 hours between games, a mandatory day off each week, and an annual rest period, are being prioritised.”
“When Gianni Infantino came to Manchester to meet with us last year, these were the changes that our Premier League and Women’s Super League members said they wanted to see.”
“However, it’s very difficult to see how that aligns with the constant expansion of the domestic and international calendar.”
“We know that the current workload players face is having an ongoing impact on their wellbeing, both on and off the pitch. We can’t simply push them until they break.”
‘We were superficial’ – Roma boss Jose Mourinho slams players after Servette draw
Jose Mourinho slammed his Roma players for their ‘superficial’ attitude in their 1-1 draw with Servette and singled out Housseum Aouar for criticism.
Roma’s chances of finishing first in their Europa League group took a blow as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Swiss side Servette on Thursday. Mourinho’s team took the lead after 21 minutes through Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku but Chris Bedia levelled proceedings five minutes after the break as both sides came away with a point. After the match, Mourinho laid into his players, including summer signing Aouar.
He told Sky Sport Italia: “We had important opportunities, but the start of the second half was something that happens too often to us. It’s a pity that you don’t have a camera in our locker room at half-time, because every time I make it clear to them that the opponents playing at home who are a goal down will come out fighting.
“That is a natural reaction, it is something we expect. Yet again we were superficial in our attitude, in our interpretation of this moment of the match. There are players who once again missed an opportunity to prove themselves, for example, Aouar.
“There are several who are on the bench and come on in Serie A with a great attitude, then in the Europa League they come on with this sluggish attitude, like they are not accustomed to being on the bench and then do not improve the game.”
Roma will be in the knockout stages of the Europa League but it is likely they will face a side who has come third in their respective Champions League group after failing to put away Servette. Mourinho led Roma to the Europa Conference League title in 2022 and were runners up in this competition last season. With the former Chelsea boss expected to leave the Italian giants at the end of the season, extra games will not make his task of claiming more silverware any easier.
Roma’s final group stage game is against Sheriff on December 14. They will have to beat the Moldovan side and hope Slavia lose against Servette to top the group and avoid the play-offs
Desperate times! Andre Onana willing to pull out of AFCON to protect Man Utd No.1 spot
Andre Onana is reportedly willing to pull out of AFCON to protect his Manchester United No.1 spot after his horror show against Galatasaray.
The Cameroonian was expected to fly out of Manchester to join Rigobert Song’s troops for continental glory in January. However, according to The Sun, the shot-stopper might ditch that plan and continue at Carrington as he fears that he might slip down the pecking order with Turkish goalkeeper Altay Bayinider smacking his lips on the prospect of becoming the new No. 1 in his absence.
Onana committed a couple of howlers against Galatasaray in the Champions League on Wednesday evening that saw United surrender a two-goal lead and ultimately being held to a 3-3 draw. He was left a frustrated figure at full-time and was spotted throwing his gloves off in disgust after he once again grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Moreover, this is not the first time that his abilities have come under the scanner as he had earlier made other schoolboy errors between the sticks, including against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
After the match, Ten Hag hinted that Bayindir would get his chance soon and urged him to be patient.
“We are pleased with the goalkeeping group. They have to push each other,” the manager told reporters.
“We are very pleased with Altay who is doing very well, he just has to be patient. If he works well and continues his progress, he will get his chance and will have to take it.”
Onana had hung up his boots from international football midway through the 2022 World Cup after he fell out with Cameroon manager, Song. However, the dup has since put aside their differences and Onana even played an important role in the AFCON qualifiers under the aegis of the manager. If Cameroon reaches the final of the tournament, the 27-year-old could potentially miss six matches for United.
Ten Hag will have a tough call to take if Onana continues to make more high-profile errors between the sticks. The Red Devils have now conceded 33 goals in all competitions this season after the first 20 matches which is their worst record since they shipped in 43 in the 1962-63 season.
However, the keeper will be eager to prove a point to his critics when United take on Newcastle on Saturday in the Premier League
Al-Nassr superstar hit with lawsuit for promotion of crypto exchange Binance
Portugal and Al-Nassr superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has been sued for promoting the controversial cryptocurrency exchange Binance.
The 38-year-old Portuguese star has been hit with a proposed class-action lawsuit from plaintiffs Michael Sizemore, Mikey Vongdara, and Gordon Lewis, all of whom claim they suffered severe losses from his promotion of crypto exchange Binance – as reported by Coin Telegraph.
Back in 2022, Binance announced a multi-year deal with Ronaldo, in a bid to promote a series of his own non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Within the complaint, it has been claimed that users who signed up through Ronaldo’s promotion of the platform were more likely to use Binance for other reasons, such as investing in alleged “unregistered securities”.
A filing to a United States district court in Florida on November 27 regarding Ronaldo’s involvement with Binance claimed: “Ronaldo’s promotions solicited or assisted Binance in soliciting investments in unregistered securities by encouraging his millions of followers, fans, and supporters to invest with the Binance platform.”
The suit also alleges Ronaldo was previously aware or should have known “about Binance selling unregistered crypto securities” because of his “investment experience and vast resources to obtain outside advisers”.
Ronaldo will have to turn his focus away from the ongoing issues regarding Binance currently, as he prepares to face Al-Hilal, who recently lost Brazilian star Neymar to a season ending injury, on Friday evening.
Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr team currently sit in second place in the Saudi Pro League behind their upcoming opponents, as they look to close the current four point gap with a win in the coming days
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