The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee has announced some modifications in the qualification format of the continent’s pathway to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. This new format will see eight direct spots for Asian teams and a single intercontinental play-off slot allocated to the AFC by FIFA following the expansion of the finals to 48 teams from 32. Don’t miss our soccer predictions today!
The AFC’s executive committee finalized and approved the new structure following a series of consultation and dialogue sessions with all 47 AFC Member Associations (MAs), discussions with the AFC Competitions Committee, as well as the Confederation’s key stakeholders. The new structure will have four different rounds. It’s the new season for our Premier League fantasy football!
The first round will see 22 teams, ranked 26 to 47, will be drawn to play in a home-and-away format in the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1, where the 11 winners will progress to the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2. The 36 teams ranked from 1 to 25 will be joined by the 11 winners of the first round. They will be divided into 9 groups to compete in a round-robin home-and-away format.
Only the top two teams from each group – 18 in total – will advance to the AFC Asian Qualifiers for the World Cup as well as the 2027 Asian Cup. During the Asian Qualifiers Round, the 18 teams will be grouped again into three to compete in a round-robin, home-and-away format, with the top two teams – six in total – from each group qualifying directly to the 2026 World Cup.
The final round will see the third and fourth placed teams from all groups of the AFC Asian Qualifiers divided into two groups to compete in a single round-robin format. The two top teams from each group will automatically advance to the 2026 World Cup, while the two second-placed teams will compete for a berth in the Intercontinental Playoff.
Meanwhile, the 10 losing teams in the first round of the new format will meet in the Asian Cup Qualifiers Playoff, where they will be drawn to compete in a home-and-away format, with five winners advancing to the Asian Cup Qualifiers Final Round. The final round will compose of 24 teams from the Round 1, third and fourth placed teams from Round 2 groups, AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Playoff winners.
The 24 teams will be divided into six groups and the top teams of each group will qualify for the 2027 Asian Cup. The six winners of this round will join the 18 sides that had previously secured their berths to make for a 24-team tournament. Despite being approved, AFC highlighted that the new format is still subject to change depending on the final number of entries.
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