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UEFA reveal new qualifying format for 2026 World Cup

UEFA have confirmed their suggested format for the qualification stage of the World Cup in 2026.

The next World Cup – which is being co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada – is set to be the biggest-ever edition of the tournament with 48 teams participating – an increase of 50% from before.

Of the 16 new spots, three have been allocated to UEFA. This means that 16 European nations will be present at the 2026 World Cup.

UEFA have now revealed the qualifying format they intend to use ahead of the tournament.

European qualification for last year’s World Cup in Qatar consisted of ten groups of five or six countries.

Each group winner progressed to the final tournament and the other three spots were determined by a play-off round between 12 teams.

The new suggested format would see the number of groups increased from ten to 12. However, the size of the groups will be reduced to four or five, thus decreasing the number of qualifying games.

All 12 group winners would automatically qualify for the World Cup, with the 12 runners-up heading to a play-off round.

They would be joined by the four highest-ranked Nations League teams from the 2024/25 campaign who did not finish inside the top two in their qualifying groups.

The 16 teams in the play-offs would be divided into four paths. Each team would play a single-legged semi-final, with the winners progressing to a single-legged final.

The four winners would qualify for the tournament.

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