FIFA Series explainer – what is it, who is playing and will people care?

Football’s global governing body has launched a new friendly competition.

Initially floated by FIFA president Gianni Infantino (top image) in December 2022, the first edition of the FIFA Series will take place from March 18 to March 26 this year.

Going forward, it will be a biennial event taking place in March of years ending with an even number. 

Here, The Athletic answers the key questions about this new addition to the game’s calendar.

What is the FIFA Series?

In short, 20 national sides from all six confederations — UEFA (Europe), CONMEBOL (South America), CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean), AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), and OFC (Oceania) — have signed up to play a series of friendly matches against each other.

“This is a great opportunity to enable member associations that do not have regular opportunities to play against teams from other confederations,” explains Elkhan Mammadov, FIFA’s director of European member associations. 

The host nations are Algeria, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia, with the latter not participating in the pilot scheme but still hosting matches.

Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

As they are only friendlies, FIFA is not putting forward any prize money and no trophies will be handed out.

Mammadov says that although nothing has been made official, discussions are underway regarding a women’s version of the FIFA Series.

“We need to create additional opportunities for women’s teams to play matches, so this is something that will be communicated in the near future,” Mammadov said.

Who is taking part?

Algeria will be hosting Bolivia, Andorra and South Africa, with Azerbaijan entertaining Mongolia, Tanzania and Bulgaria. 

Sri Lanka are hosting Papua New Guinea, Bhutan and the Central African Republic. Saudi Arabia (not playing) will host Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana and Cambodia and, in another section, Guinea, Vanuatu, Bermuda and Brunei.

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Bulgaria players celebrate a goal last year (Andrej Isakovic/AFP via Getty Images)

Why are there no high-ranked national sides involved?

The highest-ranked team taking part in the FIFA Series is Algeria, who are 43rd in the standings, with Sri Lanka the lowest-ranked national side, sitting 204th out of 210 teams.

“The big member associations don’t have any issues finding friendly matches against other big member associations, whether it is within their confederation or another one,” says Kenny Jean-Marie, FIFA’s chief of member associations. 

“But when you get lower in the rankings, you find plenty of member associations have never played against a team from another confederation.”

“They (high-ranked teams) announce when they are available and there is a queue forming to play against them,” adds Mammadov.

Mammadov says he has already had conversations that suggest the 2026 edition of the FIFA Series will include higher-ranked national sides, claiming it is a “great opportunity” for them.

Mammadov and Jean-Marie highlighted how bigger teams, such as England, France, Argentina and the USMNT, had already fixed their international fixtures for next month’s break.

Has this got anything to do with the expanded World Cup in 2026?

The 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted in the United States, Mexico and Canada, is going to include 48 teams, up from 32 in Qatar in 2022.

And FIFA hopes that its new series, which involves 20 teams (with a desire to expand it in the coming years), can serve as a worthwhile exercise for some national sides.



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“We are in a context where the next World Cup will be 48 teams,” adds Jean-Marie. “Having 48 teams in the next World Cup means you will have many member associations who have never participated before in a World Cup. 

“They will arrive in the U.S., Mexico and Canada with nearly no experience at international level outside of their continent. To those member associations, we are offering windows of opportunity to compete against other styles of play.”



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Will people care about it?

FIFA certainly hopes so, although it was conceded that the matches, particularly when the travelling teams are playing against each other, will not garner much local attention. The fact they are only friendly matches will also do little to drum up interest.

“The first edition will be an introduction, but at the next edition, which will be in March 2026, you might have international travellers who follow their team because some of the teams have never had tournament experience to follow their team,” says Mammadov.

“It all depends on the local communities. If, for example, there is a Mongolian community in Azerbaijan, then maybe they will go.

“When the home team is playing, there will be high interest. But when the travelling teams are playing, there will be low interest.”

FIFA is yet to announce how supporters can watch fixtures, be it on TV or via streaming platforms, but it says something will be confirmed soon.

Is FIFA not just adding more games to the calendar?

Although FIFA has a fixation on expanding tournaments — think the 2026 World Cup and the 2025 Club World Cup — it is not adding any additional games to the football calendar via its FIFA Series.

This was a point raised by Mammadov when discussing whether, especially if the FIFA Series is expanded for future editions, the top domestic leagues in Europe will be receptive to their players heading off to play in far-flung destinations.



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“If you look to the friendly matches outside the FIFA Series, you can see some of the teams representing top leagues are travelling overseas and playing in different continents,” Mammadov said. 

“That’s why we have the window between March 18 and 26, as it will give the players enough time to travel with their national team and go back to their respective clubs.”

(Top photo: Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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