Wednesday , April 17 2024

Journey to historic 2026 FIFA World Cup kicks off in South America!

Current CONMEBOL and world champions Argentina to lead the way with first matches on Thursday, September 7, 2023; qualifiers to conclude with intercontinental play offs in March 2026; for the first time, 48 member associations to secure FIFA World Cup berth.

2022 FIFA World Cup winners Argentina and their South American counterparts will get the ball rolling on the much awaited road to the 2026 FIFA World Cup, as FIFA’s member associations all over the world dream of making history in Canada, Mexico and the USA.

Three mouth watering clashes will mark the start of the journey on Thursday, September 7, with Argentina v. Ecuador, Paraguay v. Peru and Colombia v. Venezuela. The first round of matches will be completed on the following day, with Uruguay v. Chile and Brazil v. Bolivia.

Following the most successful edition of FIFA’s flagship event to date in Qatar last year, which broke several records on and off the pitch, the 2026 instalment will see 48 teams reach the final competition for the first time, with the winners lifting the trophy on July 19, 2026.

The FIFA intercontinental playoff tournament, which will take place at a centralised venue in March 2026, will determine the last two teams to secure a berth for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

As confirmed by the FIFA Council in 2017, the slot allocation per confederation is as follows:

  • AFC: 8.5 slots (one team advancing to the FIFA intercontinental playoffs)
  • CAF: 9.5 slots (one team advancing to the FIFA intercontinental playoffs)
  • CONCACAF: 6.5 slots (two teams advancing to the FIFA intercontinental playoffs)
  • CONMEBOL: 6.5 slots (one team advancing to the FIFA intercontinental playoffs)
  • OFC: 1.5 slots (one team advancing to the FIFA intercontinental playoffs)
  • UEFA: 16 slots

FIFA World Cup 2026 preliminary competition format by confederation

AFC

Joint qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and the AFC Asian Cup 2027. The first round, to be played in October 2023, will consist of a home and away play off series between 20 AFC teams, with 10 home and away ties and 10 teams advancing to the second round.

The second round will be played between November 2023 and June 2024 and feature nine groups of four teams, with the first and second placed teams in each group reaching the final round of qualifying.

The initial pathway has already been revealed for 46 AFC nations, after the draw for the first and second qualifying rounds was conducted in Kuala Lumpur.

The final round, to be staged between September 2024 and June 2025, will consist of three groups of six teams, with the first and second placed teams in each group qualifying directly for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the third and fourth placed teams contesting the AFC play off matches.

The group stage of the play offs will be played in October and November 2025 at a centralised venue, with the six teams divided into two groups of three. The two group winners will qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup 2026, while the second placed teams from each group will progress to the single match play off knockout stage, the winner of which will qualify for the FIFA intercontinental play offs.

CAF

Following the draw that took place on 13 July 2023 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, one round of matches will be played between November 2023 and October 2025, with the teams divided into nine groups of six and the winners qualifying directly for the FIFA World Cup 2026, while the four best second placed teams will progress to a play off round to be played in November 2025. The play offs will consist of a single leg semi final played at a centralised venue and a one leg final, the winner of which will progress to the FIFA intercontinental play offs.

CONCACAF

The FIFA World Cup 2026 hosts, Canada, Mexico and the USA, automatically qualify for the final competition.

Additionally, the four lowest ranked CONCACAF teams in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking will play two home and away series in March 2024, with the winner of each series advancing to the second round, to be played in June 2024 and June 2025.

The second round will comprise six groups of five teams, with the first and second placed teams in each group advancing to the final round, to be played in September, October and November 2025. The final round will consist of three groups of four teams, with the respective winners qualifying directly for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the two best second placed finishers making it to the FIFA intercontinental play offs.

CONMEBOL

The top six teams in CONMEBOL’s home and away round robin league format qualifiers, which are due to conclude in September 2025, will qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup 2026, while the seventh placed team will secure a berth in the FIFA intercontinental play offs.

CONMEBOL has had a round robin league qualifying format in place since the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

OFC

The preliminary competition will be played in three stages. Stage one will take place at a centralised venue in September 2024 and will comprise a one leg play off series among the four lowest ranked OFC teams in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking. The winner of each series will advance to a final match, the winner of which will progress to stage two.

Stage two, which will see eight teams divided into two groups of four, will be played in a league format in October and November 2024, with the first and second placed teams in each group advancing to stage three.

Stage three will take place in the March 2025 International Match Calendar window at a centralised venue, with four teams contesting two single match semi finals. The two winners will meet in one single match final to determine the team that qualifies directly for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, whereas the runners up will play in the FIFA intercontinental play offs.

UEFA

The group stage will comprise 12 groups of four or five teams to play home and away round robin matches between March and November 2025, with the 12 group winners qualifying directly for the FIFA World Cup 2026. The 12 group runners up, as well as the four best-ranked group winners from the 2024/25 UEFA Nations League that finish outside the top two in their qualifying group will enter a confederation level play off stage to be held in March 2026.

The 16 teams that enter the play offs will be drawn into four play off paths of four teams. Each team will play in a single leg semi final, with the winners progressing to a single leg final within the same International Match Calendar window. The four path winners will qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

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