FIFA World Cup Formats

History of the Soccer World Cup

The Fifa World Cup formats of the final have changed significantly since the first World Cup in 1930. The 1st Fifa World Cup was the only tournament without any qualifying tournament and all participating teams were invited.

Once a team qualifies for the finals, they typically play in some sort of group stage, with the winners progressing to the next stage, advancing to the finals in a knockout format, and finally to the finals to determine the world champions.

Here are the different Fifa World Cup formats used in past World Cup tournaments:

  • 1930: 13 teams are divided into four groups. Each group played in a round-robin format, with the four winners of each group advancing to the knockout semi-final stage. There was no match for third place.
  • 1934: 16 teams took part in the Knockout tournament, and the winner advances to the next round (Round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and final). A tied game (after overtime) has been replayed.
  • 1938: The same format as 1934 was used, but Austria was recognized by Germany after qualifying and left the tournament with just 15 teams.
  • 1950: Thirteen teams were divided into four first-round groups, with the winner of each group advancing to the final group stage. The winner of the tournament was determined by a final round-robin group contested by these four teams (Uruguay, Brazil, Sweden, and Spain).
  • 1954: 16 qualifying teams were divided into four groups. Each group played only four games (two teams were seeded against two teams unseeded). In the knockout stage, the four group winners played against each other to produce the finalists, and the four runner-up teams played against each other to produce the second finalists.
  • 1958-1970: In the group stage, the 16 teams compete in a round-robin fashion in four groups of four in a round-robin format, with the top two advancing to the knockout stages (quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals).
  • 1974-1978: In the first stage, 16 teams competed in four groups of four in a round-robin fashion similar to previous World Cups. The top two from each group then compete in another group stage (two groups of four each), the winners of the two groups face off in the final, and the runner-up from each group meets in the third-place play-off.
  • 1982: 24 teams played in 6 groups of 4 teams each. The top two teams from each group will advance to the second round, and the 12 teams will be divided into four groups of three, with the winner of each group advancing to the knockout semi-finals.
  • 1986-1994: 24 teams played in 6 groups of 4 teams each. The top two teams from each group and the top four third-placed teams will advance to the knockout round of 16 teams.
  • 1998-2022: 32 teams playing in 8 groups of 4 teams each. The top two teams from each group advanced to the knockout stage, with the winner of each group playing the runner-up from one of the other groups.
  • 2026+: 48 teams will play in 16 groups of three teams. The top two teams from each group will advance to a knockout tournament, starting with a round of 32 teams.

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