Africa announces 2026 World Cup qualifying plans

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Africa will employ a single stage of World Cup qualification for the next finals in 2026, doing away with three rounds previously for a format that will take almost two years to complete.

The continent will have nine places at the expanded 48-team tournament in North America and have decided on a format of nine groups, where the winner alone will qualify for the World Cup, the Confederation of African Football announced on Friday.

Africa previously had up to three stages of qualification — preliminary rounds involving the lower ranked countries, then a group stage followed by two-legged playoffs to decide the five representatives the continent has previously had at the finals.

For last year’s tournament in Qatar, the entire African qualifying process was squashed into a six-month period but for 2026 it will take 23 months before the identity of the nine finalists are known.

The draw for the nine groups will be made in Cotonou, Benin on July 12, CAF said.

It gave no further explanation but is expecting all 54 African countries to enter, meaning each group will be made up of six nations, and will likely seed teams for the draw according to the latest FIFA rankings.

The qualifiers will kick off in November before continuing in June next year and there will be three separate windows in March, September and October 2025 to conclude the groups.

The four best runners-up from the groups will play in a CAF playoff tournament in November 2025 and the winners of that will compete in the FIFA playoff tournament in March 2026 for a possible 10th African slot.

This playoff tournament will involve six teams to decide the final two World Cup berths. The six teams will be one from each confederation, except Europe, and one additional team from the confederation of the host countries (CONCACAF).

The World Cup finals in Canada, Mexico and the U.S are being played in mid-2026.

World football’s governing body FIFA has already announced that the final will be played on July 19.