2026 World Cup: How nations from around the world can qualify

Qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup began on Oct. 12, 2023, when minor nations from the Asian confederation played their first round of matches. Myanmar's Lwin Moe Aung scored the very first goal in a 5-1 win over Macau.

Most confederations now have qualifying well underway, but we're a long way from discovering who will join hosts United States, Mexico and Canada.

Here's where we're at around the globe.

Europe (UEFA)
12 auto + 4 confederation playoff

There are 55 European nations, and qualifying will run from March to November 2025. However, Russia remain suspended due to the invasion of Ukraine and are unlikely to compete, leaving 54 nations.

There will be 12 groups of four or five teams, playing home and away matches. The group winners will qualify directly for the World Cup.

The final four places will be determined via confederation playoffs, to be played in March 2026. There is no path to the World Cup through FIFA's intercontinental playoffs.

The UEFA playoff involves 16 teams: the 12 runners-up plus the four best-ranked group winners from the 2024-25 UEFA Nations League, who did not finish in the top two in World Cup qualifying. This creates four routes, each with four teams featuring a semifinal and a final for a place at the World Cup.

South America (CONMEBOL)
6 auto + 1 playoff

As in recent qualifying competitions, all 10 nations play each other home and away. The top six nations qualify directly to the finals. The seventh-placed team will go into the intercontinental playoffs in March 2026.

The first qualifiers took place in September 2023, with the league phase to be completed in September 2025.

- Check out the fixtures and results | Latest table

North America, Central America, Caribbean (Concacaf)
3 auto + 2 playoff

Usually, Concacaf would have six automatic places in qualifying -- but for the 2026 finals three of the six are taken up by the hosts. That leaves three places to be won, plus two spots in the intercontinental playoffs.

Concacaf saw 32 nations enter the race to make the finals.

Round 1: The four lowest-ranked Concacaf nations battled it out in two-legged ties. Anguilla and British Virgin Islands eliminated Turks and Caicos Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands respectively, both on penalties.

Round 2: The top 28-ranked nations, plus the two winners from Round 1, were drawn into six groups of five teams. The six group winners and six group runners-up will move on to Round 3. This stage will be played in two blocks, one in June 2024 and the other in June 2025.

- Check out the latest fixtures and results here | Latest tables

Round 3: The 12 remaining teams will be drawn into three groups of four teams. The group winners will qualify for the World Cup, with the two runners-up with the best record going on to take part in the intercontinental playoffs. This phase will be played in September, October and November 2025.

Africa (CAF)
9 auto + 1 playoff

There were 54 FIFA-affiliated nations in the draw, but Eritrea subsequently withdrew.

Round 1: The 53 teams are in eight groups of six nations, and one group of five. The nine group winners qualify for the World Cup,

This stage began in November 2023 and will be completed in October 2025.

- Check out the latest fixtures and results here | Latest tables

Round 2: The four best runners-up will enter playoffs (two semifinals and a final) to decide which one country will go to the intercontinental playoffs. This stage will be played in November 2025.

Asia (AFC)
8 auto + 1 playoff

This is by some distance the most complicated route to the World Cup, with a layered qualifying process which creates a dual group stage to find the eight automatic qualifiers.

Round 1: The 20 lowest-ranked nations played two-legged ties in October 2023. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore and Yemen advanced.

Round 2: Those 10 winners joined the 26 best-ranked nations. The 36 teams were drawn into nine groups of four teams, with the top two nations going through to Round 3. This stage began in November 2023 and will be completed in June 2024.

- Check out the latest results here | Final tables

Advanced: Australia, Bahrain, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan

Round 3: We're now left with 18 nations, who will be drawn into three groups of six teams in July. Matches will be held from September 2024 through to June 2025

The group winners and runners up will take the first six places at the 2026 World Cup.

The six nations who finished in third and fourth move on to round 4.

Round 4: The six teams in this stage will be drawn into two groups of three. They will play each other once, so two matches, on neutral ground in October 2025.

The group winners take the final two automatic places at the World Cup.

The runners-up continue on to Round 5.

Round 5: The two runners-up will play a two-legged tie in November 2025 to earn the place in the intercontinental playoffs.

Oceania (OFC)
1 auto + 1 playoff

All 11 members of the OFC region are expected to take part.

Round 1: The four lowest-ranked nations will play a knockout format (two semis and a final) in September 2024 for a place in round two. The games will be played in Samoa, with the draw to be held in July. American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga are set to take part.

Round 2: The winners from round one join Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu.

The eight nations will be drawn into two groups of four nations, with matches played in October and November 2024. Games will be held in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

The top two countries in each group go on to round three.

Round 3: Four countries remain, and will play a knockout format (two semis and a final) in March 2025.

The winner of the final qualifies for the World Cup, with the losers playing in the intercontinental playoff.

Intercontinental playoffs (2 places)

The playoffs, to be held in March 2026, will determine the final two qualifiers.

Six countries will take part. Each of the five confederations (apart from UEFA) will have one country in the playoffs. The host confederation (so for this edition Concacaf) receives a second slot.

1 Africa
1 Asia
2 Concacaf
1 Oceania
1 South America

The two nations with the best FIFA World Ranking will be seeded and go straight into one of the two finals.

The four other countries will be drawn to play a semifinal, feeding through to play one of the seeds for one of the two places at the World Cup.

The playoffs are due to be held in one of the World Cup host nations as a test event.