Africa’s Intense competition for Nine Slots and Beyond to 2026 World Cup
The commencement of Africa’s 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign this week brings a heightened sense of competition. The expansion from 32 to 48 teams grants Africa nine automatic places. And, the challenging nature of the qualifying process remains a formidable test.
As Asia and South America initiate their qualification battles for the 2026 World Cup, Africa’s journey unfolds over two years. Aiming to secure its nine automatic berths at the event hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. The possibility of an additional place through a novel playoff system adds an extra layer of intrigue.
Africa’s qualifying process is often touted as the toughest in world football. Visiting teams face a daunting challenge in this region, characterized by long journeys, scarce air travel options, harsh weather conditions, and minimal amenities. Former coach Carlos Queiroz describes the African preliminaries as nothing short of a “nightmare.”
In the 2026 World Cup qualifying format, the 54 African entrants are divided into nine groups, with only the group winners guaranteed a spot at the finals. The four best-ranked runners-up will engage in a playoff, determining one team advancing to the innovative intercontinental playoff tournament. The increased opportunities come with a challenge that underscores Africa’s enduring reputation for having one of the most demanding paths to football’s grandest stage.