Update on the FIFA World Cup football qualification in the qualifying zones of Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, South America, and North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Information per FIFA Zone: when do the qualifying matches start, what is the format, how many rounds, what do the groups look like, how many tickets per FIFA continent, which countries will proceed? The following is already known, as of February-March 2023.
It is still fresh in the memories of a few billion football fans. Lionel Messi holds up the World Cup on behalf of Argentina on December 18, 2022 in Qatar. ‘Just’ four years before the start of the 2026 Football World Cup in North America, the ultimate battleground of global football has an equally ultimate last game. The final of the FIFA World Cup football is thrilling. Look at Messi’s opening goal, and his teammate Ángel Di María doubling the lead. And look at Kylian Mbappé with his two late, beautiful and equalizing goals for France. Leading to an extension of this gala performance, in the Lusail Stadium in Al Daayen.
In that extra time, Messi and Mbappé score again: 3-3. Meanwhile, we have already had three straight penalties – once Messi, twice Mbappé – on the way to the decisive penalty shootout. The two absolute star players again assert themselves with their last hits of the evening. Furthermore, welcoming the world title is in the hands of their teammates. The Argentines fulfill their duty, but two Frenchmen miss: Argentina is the new world champion.
The road to the World Cup football finals: qualifying towards 2026
The World Cup final will go down in the books forever. A new edition will be added in the summer of 2026. What it will look like is still one big question mark. But it is certain that all FIFA countries can still dream of participating. Qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup will start in 2023, 2024 or 2025 in the zones AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC and UEFA. A total of 210-211 FIFA members are participating. Of these, 48 countries will report in 2026 in North America, in one of the host countries USA, Canada and Mexico. In two World Cup football host cities in Canada, three in Mexico and eleven in the United States, we will see a total of 80 matches. Here we list what is already known about the FIFA qualification zones.
World Cup 2026 host countries USA, Canada and Mexico already assured of participation
To start with: during the FIFA Council on February 14, 2023, it was officially announced that the three host countries do not have to qualify for the 2026 World Cup. The United States, Canada and Mexico are the first three of the 48 countries to be certain of participation at the finals. All other countries have to qualify. The setup of each qualification differs per FIFA Zone. Here, we explain the different formats per FIFA continent, further down this page. But first, this is the overview of the minimum and maximum number of countries per FIFA region that can qualify for the final round in 2026:
|FIFA ZONE||NUMBERS OF QUALIFICATION FOR WORLD CUP FOOTBALL|
|AFC||Minimum 8, maximum 9 countries (possible +1 via intercontinental play-offs)|
|CONCACAF||Minimum 6, maximum 8 countries (possible +2 via intercontinental play-offs)|
Host countries USA, Canada and Mexico are already automatically qualified
|CONMEBOL||Minimum 6, maximum 7 countries (possible +1 via intercontinental play-offs)|
|OFC||Minimum 1, maximum 2 countries (possible +1 via intercontinental play-offs)|
|CAF||Minimum 9, maximum 10 countries (possible +1 via intercontinental play-offs)|
Format and dates of the 2026 World Cup qualification in Africa
The CAF qualifiers for the World Cup may start as early as 2023. In the qualifying zone of Africa, 54 countries compete for nine to ten tickets. There will probably be three rounds. Nine CAF countries qualify directly. In addition, via these African qualifying rounds, one country will gain access to the FIFA intercontinental play-offs. From those play-offs, the tenth CAF country can reach the World Cup football finals. More information about that: see later in this article. Whether it eventually becomes nine or ten, it is considerably more than the number of five CAF countries that gained an entry ticket for the previous World Cup, in 2022. For that FIFA tournament, five countries from the Confederation of African Football managed to qualify. Namely Cameroon (which ended in the first round), Ghana (first round as well), Morocco (semi-finals), Senegal (eighth finals) and Tunisia (first round).
World Cup Football participants at the continent CAF are Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Congo DR, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Current information African qualifiers
Changes and new, concrete dates, the exact divisions and groups can be found on our current CAF qualification page. See: World Cup football qualification Africa.
Format and dates of the 2026 World Cup qualification in Asia
The AFC qualifiers for the World Cup start in October 2023 and last until October 2025. In the qualifying zone of Asia, 46 countries will participate. Eight or nine of these countries will qualify for the FIFA 2026 finals. There are four rounds and in November 2025 there will be the intercontinental play-offs for (among other) one AFC country.
The four AFC qualifying phases are divided into two qualifying rounds, the actual, main qualifying round and the AFC play-offs. Eight countries qualify from this. In addition, there is the mentioned rematch for one AFC country in the intercontinental FIFA WC 2026 play-offs.
AFC Qualifying Round 1 (preliminary)
The first qualifying round in the FIFA continent AFC will begin on October 12 and last through October 17, 2023. In this so called Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1, the 22 AFC countries that are lowest on the FIFA Ranking participate. A draw results for these 22 countries in eleven mutual matches. Each team plays an away game and a home game. The eleven winners will proceed to the second (preliminary) round.
AFC Qualifying Round 2 (preliminary)
The second qualifying round in Asia will begin on November 16, 2023 and last until June 11, 2024. In this Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2, the eleven winners of the first qualifying round are supplemented by the top 25 teams from the AFC FIFA Ranking. This makes a total of 36 teams. These are divided into nine groups. Each country will play in a group of four teams. Within each group, each country plays six games: home and away against each of the three opponents. From each of the nine groups, the top two countries will advance to the main part of the AFC Asian Qualifiers.
AFC Qualifying Round 3: main round
The third World Cup qualifying round in zone AFC will begin on September 5, 2024 and ends on June 24, 2025. In this phase of the AFC Asian Qualifiers, the remaining eighteen countries of the AFC preliminaries will continue the road to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Note: they also play for qualification for the AFC Asian Cup in 2027. Looking at the World Cup, these eighteen teams play in three groups of six. Each country plays ten matches: home and away against each of the five opponents. The six countries that finish first and second in their group qualify directly for the World Cup. The six nations that finish third or fourth in their group continue in the Asian play-offs.
AFC Qualifying Round 4: Asian play-offs
The fourth World Cup qualifying round in Asia is in September and October 2025. This will be followed by the intercontinental play-offs in November 2025. The six countries that finish 3rd or 4th in their group during the AFC qualifiers take part in these AFC playoffs. They now play in a group of three. In both new groups, all countries play against each other once, on neutral ground. This means that two new matches are scheduled for each team.
Mutual play-off game for proceeding to intercontinental play-offs
Both numbers one are assured of a 2026 World Cup ticket, and therefore join the six AFC countries that have already qualified directly for the World Cup via the third round. Besides these eight contenders, also one of both numbers two of these play-off groups is still in the race. Namely, they will play a mutual play-off game, with at stake a ticket for the intercontinental play-offs (for explanation, as mentioned, see further down this post). That Asian representative can raise the total number of AFC nations at the FIFA 2026 finals from eight to nine.
World Cup Football participants at the continent AFC are Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China PR, Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, IR Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Korea DPR, Korean Republic, Kuwait, Kyrgyz Republic, Laos, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.
Note: The Northern Mariana Islands are also members of the Asian Football Confederation, but only participate in qualifying for the Asian Cup, not in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.
Current information Asian qualifiers
In addition to the 2026 World Cup, participation in the 2027 AFC Asian Cup is also at stake for the AFC countries during the qualifying series from October 2023 to October 2025.
Changes and new, concrete dates, the exact divisions and groups can be found on our current AFC qualification page. See: World Cup football qualification Asia.
Format and dates of the 2026 World Cup qualification in Europe
The UEFA qualifiers for the World Cup may start as early as 2025. In the qualifying zone of Europe, 55 of 54 (if Russia is excluded) countries will participate. Sixteen of these countries will qualify for the FIFA 2026 finals. The European qualification series for the FIFA World Cup will consist of twelve double round-robin groups of four or five teams. The twelve group winners qualify directly. The best runners-up either qualify directly or participate in the UEFA play-off matches. Unlike in the other FIFA qualification zones, there is no ticket to be earned in Europe for the intercontinental World Cup qualification play-offs.
Countries that end up in a group of five during the draw for World Cup qualification will play their first matches in March 2025 or in June 2025, depending on their position in the UEFA Nations League of the 2024-2025 season. Countries drawn in a group of four will start the European qualification for the 2026 World Cup in September 2025.
Europe: strongly represented
With sixteen participants in the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America, Europe is already the most strongly represented. At the previous World Cup, in 2022 in Qatar, Europe supplied thirteen countries. Namely Belgium (which finished in the first round), Croatia (third place), Denmark (first round), England (quarter-finals), France (losing finalist), Germany (first round), Netherlands (quarter-finals), Poland (eighth-finals), Portugal (quarter-finals), Serbia (first round), Spain (eighth-finals), Switzerland (eighth-finals) and Wales (first round).
World Cup Football participants at the continent UEFA are Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, England, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Russia (possibly suspended), San Marino, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Türkiye, Ukraine, and Wales.
Current information European qualifiers
Changes and new, concrete dates, the exact divisions and groups can be found on our current UEFA qualification page. See: World Cup football qualification Europe.
Format and dates of the 2026 World Cup qualification in Oceania
The OFC qualifiers for the World Cup may start in 2024. In the qualifying zone of Oceania, 11 countries will participate. From the OFC qualifying rounds, for the first time one country is guaranteed to qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup. For guaranteed one other country from this FIFA Zone, the intercontinental play-offs are scheduled after the qualification phase in the South Pacific. Previously, the winner of the OFC qualifying phase only received a ticket for the intercontinental play-offs. If the respective delegate from Oceania is successful in this, the total number of countries from OFC that qualify for the 2026 Football World Cup can reach two.
World Cup Football participants at the continent OFC are American Samoa, Cook Island, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
No country from the South Pacific region managed to qualify for the last football world championship, in 2022 in Qatar.
Note: Australia has been part of FIFA Zone AFC (instead of OFC) since 2006.
Current information Oceanic qualifiers
Changes and new, concrete dates, the exact divisions and groups can be found on our current OFC qualification page. See: World Cup football qualification Oceania.
Format and dates of the 2026 World Cup qualification in South America
The CONMEBOL qualifiers for the World Cup start mid 2023 and last until 2025 (subject to change). In the qualifying zone of South America, 10 countries will participate. Six to seven will qualify. There is one group and there are eighteen matchdays. So, the ten countries that are part of this FIFA continent all play in the same group. In this double round-robin schedule each country plays once at home and once away against each of the other nine countries, resulting in an total amount of ninety games. The numbers one through six qualify directly. The CONMEBOL country that finishes as number seven will play the intercontinental play-offs, aiming to increase the amount of qualified countries from this area from six to seven.
World Cup Football participants at the continent CONMEBOL are current World Champions Argentina, as well as Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. During the last World Cup in Qatar, in addition to the Argentinian title holders, Brazil (quarter-final), Ecuador (first round) and Uruguay (first round) were also present.
Current information South American qualifiers
Changes and new, concrete dates, the exact divisions and groups can be found on our current CONMEBOL qualification page. See: World Cup football qualification South America.
Format and dates of the 2026 World Cup qualification in North America, Central America and the Caribbean
The CONCACAF qualifiers for the World Cup may start already in 2023. In the qualifying zone of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, 35 countries will participate. Six, seven or eight of these nations will qualify. The hosts of the World Cup Soccer, the United States, Canada and Mexico, won’t have to qualify: they are automatically present. Three more CONCACAF countries will qualify through the regular, continental qualifying rounds. In addition, the intercontinental play-offs are scheduled for two countries from this 2026 World Cup host area. That can possibly make a total amount of CONCACAF members participating at the soccer finals of seven or eight. The exact format and exact dates of the World Cup qualifying series in Zone CONCACAF are still subject to final decisions.
World Cup Football participants at the continent CONCACAF are Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Canada (as a 2026 host automatically qualified), Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico (as a 2026 host automatically qualified), Montserrat, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, US Virgin Islands, and USA (as a 2026 host automatically qualified).
Canada, Mexico, the United States and Costa Rica qualified for the last World Cup in 2022. At that previous FIFA World Cup, in Qatar, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica were eliminated at the group stage. The United States reached the eighth finals.
Current information North-, Central American and Caribbean qualifiers
Changes and new, concrete dates, the exact divisions and groups can be found on our current CONCACAF qualification page. See: World Cup football qualification America, Central America and the Caribbean.
World Cup football qualification last part: FIFA intercontinental play-offs
The FIFA intercontinental World Cup 2026 qualification play-offs consists of six countries. Namely, one country from the FIFA Zone AFC, one country from CAF, one country from OFC as well as one country from CONMEBOL, and two from CONCACAF. The UEFA continent will have no representative at these intercontinental 2026 World Cup play-offs. The six play-off qualified countries compete for the last two (of 48) tickets that entitle them to participate in the next World Cup Soccer. At this decisive mini-tournament for the last entrances, the four nations that are lowest in the FIFA Ranking are linked by a draw. The two winners then play against the two nation teams that are higher than the other four in the FIFA Ranking. The two winners of those last two games will eventually get the last World Cup 2026 tickets.