August 1 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has outlined a four-stage qualification format for the expanded 2026 World Cup which will see eight Asian teams qualify directly for the 48-team edition, and a further AFC nation in the inter-continental play-offs.
The AFC will again use the World Cup qualification process to qualify teams directly to the 2027 Asian Cup, the confederation’s blue riband championship for men’s national teams.
The AFC’s executive committee passed a structure comprised of two preliminary rounds followed by the 18-team ‘AFC Asian Qualifiers’.
This round will see three groups of six nations competing home and away, with the top two from each group qualifying directly for the 2026 World Cup. All 18 teams in this round also qualify for the Asian Cup 2027.
The six third and fourth teams in each group with be further split into two groups of three with the group winners qualifying for 2026 and the second placed teams playing off for the intercontinental play-off slot.
The AFC said that the competition structure was based on all its 47 members entering.
The full detail of the 2026 World Cup and 2027 Asian Cup qualifying pathway is outlined below:
- Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1: 22 teams, ranked 26 to 47, will be drawn to face off in a home and away format, where the 11 winners will progress to the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2.
- Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2: 36 teams – teams ranked from 1 to 25 as well as the 11 winners from the first round – will be divided into nine groups of four teams each, who will each compete in a round robin, home and away format, where the top two teams from each group – 18 in total – will advance to the AFC Asian Qualifiers.
- AFC Asian Qualifiers: Subsequently, the 18 teams, who also qualify automatically for the AFC Asian Cup™ 2027, will be divided into three groups of six teams each, competing in a round robin, home and away format, with the top two teams from each group – six in total – qualifying directly to the FIFA World Cup 2026.
- Asian Playoff: The final round will consist of the third and fourth placed teams from all groups of the AFC Asian Qualifiers – six teams in total. The six teams will be drawn into two groups of three teams each, competing in a single round robin format.
- The two first placed teams from the Asian Playoff groups will advance to the FIFA World Cup 2026. The second-placed teams from both groups will compete in a playoff match to determine the side that will represent the AFC in the Intercontinental Playoff.
The AFC Asian Cup 2027 Qualifiers will continue from the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1 and Round 2, in parallel with the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualification competition:
- AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Playoff: The 10 losing teams from the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1 will be drawn to compete in a home and away format, where the five winners will advance to the AFC Asian Cup™Qualifiers Final Round.
- AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Final Round: 24 teams in total – 1 best ranked losing team from the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1, 18 third and fourth placed teams from each group of the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 and the five winners from the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Playoff – will be divided into six groups of four teams each, where only the first placed team of each group will qualify to the AFC Asian Cup 2027.
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