World Cup 2026 qualification

The 2026 World Cup qualification is held around the world, organized by FIFA, the football associations and participating countries. More than 800 qualifying matches are played over a period of 2.5 years. 211 countries will participate in the World Cup qualification.

The countries must qualify for the World Championship through qualifying rounds on their own continent. The number of countries that qualify for the World Cup depends on the strength of the continent. The stronger the continent, the more countries can qualify.

The three host countries are automatically qualified. The Football Association decided this on February 14, 2023 because of tradition, but also from a sporting and operational point of view. The three tickets will be deducted from the number of places for the Concacaf.

On January 10, 2017, FIFA decided that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held with 48 participants, with UEFA allowed to send no less than 16 countries to the 2026 World Cup (3 more than before). FIFA hopes that the decision will improve the level of football worldwide. By admitting more participants to a World Cup football, more countries get the chance to prove themselves. Support for the global football tournament is therefore increasing and supporters from smaller football countries feel more involved in the World Cup.

Format of the European qualification for the 2026 World Cup

UEFA has proposed to FIFA a format for the qualification of 16 European teams for the 2026 World Cup.

The European qualification for the World Cup will be split into two parts:

  • Group stage
  • Playoffs

The group stage is the regular qualifying round with 12 groups of 4 or 5 teams. The 12 group winners qualify directly for the main draw in North America.

The 12 runners-up from the group stage will play play-offs in March 2026. The 4 best group winners of the 2024/25 Nations League season, who have not already qualified through the regular qualifying round, will also play play-offs.

The play-off matches consist of 4 paths, each of which consists of two semi-finals and a final. The 16 teams are divided over these 4 paths, so 4 teams per path. The 4 winners also qualify for the main draw.

World Cup qualification 2026 by football association

Europe will receive 16 tickets for the 2026 World Cup. FIFA has proposed that our continent may send 3 more countries to the tournament than before. The proposal will be considered in May 2017 in Bahrain by the Executive Committee of the World Football Association.

World Cup 2026 slot allocation

There are more tickets to be distributed for the 2026 World Cup than was previously the case. As many as 48 countries can participate in the tournament. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, 32 countries were still active.

The continent of Africa receives 4 extra tickets, bringing the total to 9. Oceania will receive one direct qualifying place for the World Cup, where the best country previously had to play play-offs.

In 2026, 8 Asian countries will be allowed to participate in the football event, which is 4 or 5 more than now. North and Central America may send 6 countries to the tournament in the future, while there are now only 3 or 4.

South Africa is allocated the least number of additional qualifying places. According to FIFA's proposal, the continent may send 6 countries to the 2026 World Cup, while there are now 4 or 5.

Below is the number of participating countries per football association and the number of countries that can qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The last 2 tickets for the 2026 World Cup can be earned through a mini tournament in November 2025.

Association Continent Members Attendees Places
AFCAFC Asia 46 46 8
CAFCAF Africa 54 54 9
CONCACAFCONCACAF North America 35 35 3 + 3 host country
CSFCONMEBOL South America 10 10 6
OFCOFC Oceania 11 11 1
UEFAUEFA Europe 55 55 16
Total   211 210 + 1 host country 43 + 3 host country

FIFA associations

World Cup 2026 qualification via mini-tournament

The last 2 tickets for the 2026 World Cup can be earned through a mini-tournament. FIFA's proposal is to organize a tournament in November 2025 in the host country, with 6 countries competing for the remaining 2 places.

No European countries will participate in this tournament, while the other 5 continents may each send 1 country. The 6th country comes from the continent that hosts the World Cup.

The aim of the mini-tournament is to prepare and test the organization for the big football tournament a year later. At the moment, the Confederations Cup acts as a test for the upcoming World Cup.

2026 World Cup qualification statistics

The 210 countries participating in the qualification for the World Cup is a new record. The previous record was 203 footballing nations for the 2014 World Cup.

The first time more than 100 countries participated in the qualifying rounds for a World Championship was more than 30 years ago. At the time, 103 countries competed for one of the 24 places at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

World Cup qualification of Asia (OFC)

The World Cup qualification of Asia will start in October 2023. During this first round, 20 teams will play against each other in a home and away game. The 10 winners join the other 26 nations of the OFC in the second round.

There are five qualifying rounds for the 8 Asian World Championship tickets and 1 playoff ticket.

World Cup 2026 places: 8
Play-off places: 1

South Africa World Cup qualification (CAF)

South Africa's World Cup qualification starts on November 13, 2023. The 54 countries of the CAF play preliminary rounds in 9 groups of 6 teams, with each group winner directly qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

The 4 best runners-up play the African play-offs for 1 place in the global play-offs.

World Cup 2026 places: 9
Play-off places: 1

North America World Cup Qualifiers (Concacaf)

North America's World Cup qualification will start in March 2024. Host countries Canada, Mexico and the US already occupy 3 places, leaving 3 places to play in front of the football. In addition, the Concacaf still has 2 places to divide for the play-offs.

In the first qualifying round, the four lowest ranked countries compete against each other. The two winners advance to the second round.

In the second round, 30 teams are divided into 6 groups of 5 teams. The numbers one and two advance to the third round.

The third and final round of the North American World Cup qualification consists of 12 participants divided into 3 groups of 4 teams. The group winners qualify for the final tournament on their own continent. The 2 best numbers two play play-offs.

Host countries: 3
World Cup 2026 places: 3
Play-off places: 2

South America World Cup Qualifiers (CONMEBOL)

The South American World Cup qualification starts on September 7, 2023 and ends in September 2025. All CONMEBOL teams play in one competition against every other opponent, both a home and away game.

The numbers 1 to 6 qualify directly for the World Cup in 2026, while the number 7 goes to the play-offs.

World Cup 2026 places: 6
Play-off places: 1

Oceania World Cup Qualifier (OFC)

Oceania's World Cup qualification will start in September 2024. For the first time, the OFC has a direct ticket to the Football World Cup.

In the first round, the four lowest ranked countries compete against each other. The two winners advance to the second round.

The second qualifying round consists of 2 groups of 4 teams. The third round consists of 4 teams playing semifinals and a final for Oceania's only direct ticket and a place in the playoffs.

World Cup 2026 places: 1
Play-off places: 1

World Cup qualification in Europe (UEFA)

Europe's World Cup qualification starts in March 2025 and ends in March 2026. The first round consists of 12 groups of 4 or 5 teams, with the group winners qualifying directly for the World Cup in North America.

The four remaining World Cup places can be earned through a play-off competition, consisting of 12 runners-up and 4 best Nations League winners.

World Cup 2026 places: 16
Play-off places: 0

Playoffs for the World Cup

The last two places for the World Cup can be won through the play-offs. There will be 6 teams from different continents: two from Concacaf and one team each from AFC, CAF, CONMEBOL and OFC.

The play-offs for the World Cup are divided into two paths, both consisting of two semi-finals and a final. The four lowest ranked countries play semi-finals, while the two highest ranked countries are directly qualified for the finals. The winners of the two finals qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

Date published: 14-08-2017 | Date modified: 06-09-2023 | Author:


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