AFC rejigs final groups for World Cup 2026 qualifiers

July 3 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has adjusted its qualification structure for the 2026 World Cup.

The AFC has eight direct slots in the 48-team expanded 2026 World Cup, as well as an intercontinental play off.

In the third round of AFC qualifying, 18 teams will be divided into six groups with the top two in each group qualifying for the final.

The third and fourth teams in each group will then play in two groups of three in a single round-robin format with the winner of each group qualifying directly for World Cup 2026.

These matches will be played in yet to be named centralised venues.

The two second-placed teams will then compete for the intercontinental play-off slot.

The changes to the play-off format are to fit in with FIFA’s decision to split the September/October 2025 four-matchday International Match Calendar into two windows with two matchdays each.

“In addition, in consideration of the latest information from FIFA on the FIFA World Cup 2026 Intercontinental Playoff window, the Committee agreed to adjust the calendar of the FIFA World Cup 2026 Asian Qualifiers and the Asian Playoff (i.e., Round 3 & 4),” said the AFC.

“Subsequently, the FIFA International Match Calendar window in September 2025 will be reserved for international friendlies and the AFC U23 Asian Cup™ 2026 Qualifiers with the Asian Playoff to be played in the October and November 2025 FIFA windows respectively.”

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