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A look at the factors affecting the expanded 2026 FIFA World Cup tournament schedule

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FIFA acknowledges organizing the expanded 2026 FIFA World Cup comes with a severely ramped-up degree of difficulty compared to 2022 in Qatar.

That tournament consisted of 32 teams and 64 matches in eight stadiums, all within a 55-kilometre radius of Qatar’s capital city of Doha.

The 2026 edition will feature 48 teams, 104 matches and 16 cities spread across four time zones in three countries — with 13 games in Canada, 13 in Mexico and 78 in the U.S. The opening group stage alone will feature 72 matches, more than Qatar's entire schedule.

The complete 2026 schedule, with matchups and kickoff times, will be revealed in early December 2025 at the tournament draw. Forty-five teams have still to qualify.

The 48 teams will be divided into 12 groups for the opening round-robin stage. The group winners and runners-up, plus the eight best third-place teams, will advance to the knockout round of 32.

FIFA met with national coaches and technical directors in May 2023 to review the Qatar tournament and get feedback on 2026.

The governing body says travel for both players and fans will be reduced by having so-called regional clusters of matches with the 16 host cities divided into East, Central and West regions. Teams will get a minimum of three days rest for 99 per cent of the tournament matches.

The East region includes Toronto, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia and New York/New Jersey. The Central is made up of Guadalajara, Mexico City. Monterrey, Houston, Dallas and Kansas City. The West features Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.

The Canadian men will have to travel, heading west for their final two group games in Vancouver after opening in Toronto. But with that long plane ride comes home support.

Doing well in the group stage will mean more than just advancing.

Teams winning their group will get a more favourable outcome in terms of rest and travel, as will the runners-up compared to the third-place sides that move on. The size of the tournament means there are 495 variations on where the best third-place teams could end up playing.

FIFA already has a selection of potential base camps, where competing countries will stay during the group stage. That choice will be made after the draw, with teams allowed to come up with their own choice as long as FIFA approves.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2026