The 2026 World Cup will be the first FIFA World cup being hosted by three countries (Mexico, USA and Canada) but that’s not only the new thing that will happen for the first time at the 2026 World Cup, there will also be a staggering 46 nations competing at the event in North America which means changes will have to made to the current format for the tournament and the qualifying in which we will explore over the next 2 articles.
UEFA ’s qualification system is unlikely to change due to the increase in nations included in the tournament as UEFA will only have 3 extra slots than they’ll will be given for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.
The CAF Qualification may have to be looked at as they gain an extra 4 spots taking the African count to 9 for the World Cup, the current system see’s the best 20 sides from round one and two meet in groups of 4 to find the 5 sides that will represent Africa at the current World Cup.
One way that could solve Africa’s problem is to change the current system to a process that may look like this:
Top 20 sides from Africa (according to FIFA world rankings) automatically qualify for round three.
The two lowest sides face off with the winner entering round 2 to be joined by another 31 sides who will play play-off style games home and away to qualify to round 3.
The remaining 16 will be joint by the top 20 in a fight to win the 9 groups along with the best runner-up, who could enter a wider play off, to qualify for World Cup 2026.
South American’s Qualification may be untouched based of the fact that only 10 sides feature in the process, CONMEBOL will have 6 spots compared to their 4.5 they will also have with the possibility of a 7th thanks to a play off birth for South America.
The Oceanic sides will also have a world cup spot guaranteed in 2026 and again will need no change their group stage system they currently have, 1ST place goes into a playoff but from 2026 they will automatically qualify whilst the runner up will be able to enter the global play off for the last spot.
The Asian Football Confederation will also benefit from the expansion of the world cup and will take a guaranteed 8 sides to North America rather than the 5 they took to Russia this year. The current system sees Asia go through 3 rounds to find the sides who will represent their confederation.
A possible change to the current process could see Asian Football Confederation follow in Europe’s system by having just one round with all 46 FIFA nations be put into 8 groups of 6 with the winners qualifying to the World Cup, whilst the remaining 8 entering a knockout tournament to find the 1 side that will enter the global play off.
CONCACAF are still waiting to find out if the three host nations will receive automatic spots at the World Cup or if they will have to qualify through their usual median. North America currently have 3 sides representing their confederation at this year’s world cup but will have an increased 6 sides qualifying for the world cup with a 7th and 8th entering the Global playoff system.
The final round currently see’s 6 sides fight out for the spots but that will most likely change regardless of the hosts automatically qualifying, assuming the sides do automatically and get spots and the World Cup the remaining 32 sides will be left to fill the other 5 possible spots and this is my idea:
The top 16 sides will be seeded and other 16 will obviously not be, they will be drawn into seeded vs unseeded where the winning 16 will then have another round of games to find the final 8. The final 8 sides will then play in a mini league to determine the top 5 sides (3 of which will automatically qualify leaving the other 2 to enter a playoff campaign
.The Global Play off:
So, at end of Qualification there will be 45 sides heading to North America leaving one spot available, this is where the playoff, spoke about above, will come into to play. 6 sides made from 2 CONCACAF, and one from every other confederation (excluding UEFA) will enter a play off tournament. The two highest FIFA ranked sides will receive a bye to the Semi-Final whilst the remaining 4 will battle it out as shown below:
Oman 3 vs Fiji 1
Cape Verde 1 vs Jamaica 0
The winners will join the two seeded side in a knockout for the final spot:
Oman 0 vs Trinidad &Tobago 1
Paraguay 2 vs Cape Verde. 0
Trinidad & Tobago 1 vs Paraguay 2.
Thus meaning the final place in the world cup will be filled and the excitement can begin all over again for this beautiful trophy.
So, there you have it, this is my little look into exactly how Qualifying could look coming into the 2026 World Cup, a new and exciting time for FIFA and its Confederations with more football to be watched world wide and more chances for some nations that have never seen the big stage before.
In Part two I shall look at how the world cup will be affected and the positives and the negatives of the changes and how they are viewed in the wider footballing world.
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