For the 48-team World Cup in 2026, the Asian Football Confederation has adopted a revised qualifying structure that takes into account its increased number of direct entrants.
In a statement released on Monday, the organisation that oversees soccer in Asia stated that a four-round qualifying process had been developed in anticipation of the eight direct slots and one intercontinental playoff position that the AFC would receive as a result of the World Cup’s expansion.
The teams placed 26th to 47th in Asia will compete in the first round of qualifying under the new format, with 11 teams moving on to join the top 25 in a second-round home-and-away series made up of nine groups.
The top two teams from each group advance to the third round, which is composed of three groups of six teams fighting against one another in a round-robin style.
For the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the top two teams in each of those groups will receive direct berths.
A playoff round comprised of two groups of three teams will be used to determine the third- and fourth-place teams. The winners of those groups will be guaranteed seats at the World Cup, while the losers will compete for Asia’s spot in an intercontinental playoff for a last-ditch attempt at qualifying.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Japan were the top two teams in each of two groups of six teams from the third round of qualifying, earning automatic slots for Qatar, giving Asia four direct admissions into the 2022 World Cup, which begins on November 21.
For a chance to play off against the South American team that finished fifth for another World Cup spot, the two third-place teams have to face off. To clinch one of 32 slots at the World Cup in Qatar, Australia defeated the United Arab Emirates in the Asian playoff and then defeated Peru in the intercontinental playoff.
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