CAF revamps 2026 World Cup qualifiers, opening group stage to all 54 member nations

May 19 – The Confederation of African Football (CAF) have announced a change in format for the African World Cup qualifiers for the 2026 finals following an executive committee meeting in Algiers, Algeria. 

“The new format has been adapted in line with FIFA’s expanded FIFA World Cup format and will involve all the 54 Member Associations of CAF who will be divided into nine (9) Groups,” said CAF.

“Winners of each Group will automatically qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026. The four best runners-up (from the Groups) will play in a CAF Play-Off tournament. The winner (CAF Play-Off tournament) will play in the FIFA Play-off Tournament.”

The new format is a major overhaul of the current qualifying route which sees the 28 lowest-ranked CAF teams play a playoff round to qualify for the group stages, where 40 teams are divided into 10 groups. Of those 10 groups, the group winners would meet each in the five playoffs to determine Africa’s representatives.

With the expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, CAF will get nine guaranteed spots, plus an additional nation could qualify via the FIFA Play-Off Tournament with one team from each of FIFA’s six confederations and one additional one from the host federation Concacaf. In the end, two teams from this playoff tournament will also book their World Cup ticket.

No African team had gone beyond the last eight of the tournament until Morocco defeated Portugal in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in Qatar to create history. Ultimately, they finished fourth losing the third-place playoff against Croatia, 2-1.

CAF also announced that the official draw of the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast will be conducted on October 12. The tournament will be played early next year.

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