How Many Teams From Each Continent Qualify For the World Cup?

Ismail Ansar

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How Does Qualifying Work?

Qualifying for the World Cup finals takes place in the six FIFA continental zones – Africa (CAF), Asia (AFC), Europe (UEFA), Oceania (OFC), North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), and South America (CONMEBOL).

World football governing body FIFA decides beforehand how many spaces a confederation will be allocated at the World Cup, and this is based on things such as the number of countries in a confederation and the strength of the countries in that confederation.

Qatar automatically qualifies for this year’s tournament by virtue of being the host country, which leaves over 200 other countries to fight it out for the 31 remaining spaces. FIFA decided to once again keep the same allocation that had been used to decide qualifying in the previous four tournaments for this year.

UEFA is guaranteed 13 spots, the most out of any confederation, while CAF is guaranteed five spots. The other confederations do have a set number of spots, but they are able to send an extra country if that country can win one of the inter-confederation play-off matches, or if a country from that confederation is hosting the tournament.

For example, the Asian confederation is usually guaranteed four spots and can send a fifth if that country wins their play-off match (which Australia did), but because of Qatar hosting this year’s competition, AFC have six participants this year.

Oceania have no countries going to this year’s finals, with the confederation usually getting either one or no spots. Their best hope of a representative is New Zealand, but the All Whites lost to Costa Rica in their inter-confederation play-off match.

CONMEBOL always has been guaranteed places, with one additional place available for the confederation’s 5th-placed side if they can win their inter-confederation play-off - Peru lost out to AFC’s Australia in the play-off, meaning that South America will only be sending four countries this year.

CONCACAF is guaranteed three spots, but can send a fourth via the play-off match – Costa Rica won their play-off match this year, so CONCACAF will be sending 4 representatives this year.

The Structure Of The Tournament

The 32 teams that have qualified for the tournament are divided into four pots of eight teams.

Teams are drawn from each pot and then allocated into one of those eight groups. Nations are seeded by FIFA rankings into these four pots - so the hosts plus the seven highest-ranked teams are placed into Pot 1, the next best-ranked eight countries are placed into Pot 2, and so on and so on. Pot 4 includes the lowest-ranked of the qualified countries plus the winners of the UEFA play-off and the winners of both the AFC-CONMEBOL and OFC-CONCACAF play-off matches.

The tournament begins with eight groups of four teams, and plays out like a standard knockout tournament. The two teams with the highest points total from each group advance to the round-of-16 knockout stage, while the other two teams are eliminated.

The round-of-16 pits the winner of one group against the runners-up of another group. The winners of each of the round-of-16 ties advance to the quarter-finals, and so on until there are two finalists. Unlike the group stages, knockout-stage matches can go to extra time and penalties if needed.

But How Will The Next World Cup Work?

The 2022 World Cup will be the last one to have just 32 teams, because the 2026 World Cup will see a massive 48 teams participating.

Canada, Mexico and the USA will all joint-host the tournament, in what will be the first-ever World Cup to take place in three different countries. The US will reportedly host 60 matches, with Canada and Mexico both hosting 10 each.

The 48 participating teams will be divided into 16 groups of three teams. Each team will now play two group-stage games, as opposed to the usual three. The top two teams in each group progress to the new round-of-32 knockout phase, and the winners of the ties in that phase advance to the regular round-of-16 knockout phase.

From then on it is business as usual, with the winners of round-of-16 ties advancing to the quarter-finals and so on.

The move to a 48-team World Cup now means that the qualifying phase will also see some changes – for example, all the confederations will definitely be seeing more of their countries likely to participate at the finals. UEFA will see their allocation go from 13 to 16, and CAF will now receive nine places instead of five. Oceania is now guaranteed a spot, while CONMEBOL is guaranteed six spots. AFC will receive eight spots, and CONCACAF will get six.

A six-team play-off tournament will also be held to decide who takes the remaining two spots - the proposal is that a nation from every confederation (except UEFA) will play-off in a knockout tournament that doubles up as a test event for the host nation. The five teams will also be joined by an additional country from the host nations’ confederation.

Two seeded teams will each meet the winners of a match between 2 unseeded teams to determine the final places.

Who Has Qualified The Most?

Brazil has qualified for the World Cup the most out of any nation, making an appearance at every single edition of the tournament so far (22). The Selecao have won it five times and have finished runners-up twice.

Germany are in second place, with Die Mannschaft making 20 World Cup finals appearances. Argentina and Italy are next up with 18 appearances, with Mexico next on 17 appearances. The likes of Spain, England and France are next up, all having made 16 appearances so far.

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