World Cup 2026: How Africa’s New Qualifying Format Works After Adjustments by CAF

World Cup 2026: How Africa’s New Qualifying Format Works After Adjustments by CAF

Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
In this article:
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FIFA World Cup
  • Qualification for the 2026 World Cup tournament has begun in Asia and South America
  • Africa starts its two-year qualifying campaign on Wednesday with nine teams in action
  • Sports Brief takes a look at how the World Cup qualifiers will work for the CAF nations

Africa's journey towards qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup begins on Wednesday, November 15, with the continent set to make history by sending a record number of nations to the newly expanded global tournament.

In the previous edition hosted in Qatar, only five countries from the continent participated, with the Atlas Lions of Morocco achieving a historic feat by reaching the semi-finals.

With the possibility of doubling the number of teams securing a ticket to North America in 2026, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has adjusted the qualifying format.

Senegal, Africa, CAF, World Cup, FIFA World Cup, 2026, Morocco
A total of 53 African countries will battle for the nine and half available slots for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Photos by KHALED DESOUKI, Richard Sellers and ANP
Source: Getty Images

How many African teams will qualify?

For the upcoming World Cup in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, nine African teams are guaranteed a spot - a significant increase from the previous format that featured 32 teams.

There is also the possibility of a 10th team qualifying through an intercontinental play-off.

How CAF's World Cup qualifying works

The African qualifiers will be played across two rounds. The first will be contested in the form of a group stage, with nine groups of six teams each.

According to the BBC, each team will play two matches, home and away, against each of their opponents. The top finisher in each group will qualify directly for the quadrennial tournament.

The second round will pit the four best runners-up in two one-off semi-finals, followed by a final. The winner of this second round will participate in the FIFA Play-off Tournament.

Breakdown of WC play-off tournament

The FIFA Play-Off Tournament is set to witness a battle among six teams for the last two spots. The tournament will feature two teams from Concacaf, along with one team each from the AFC, CAF, CONMEBOL, and OFC.

The bracket semi-finals will involve the four lowest-ranked nations, while the two highest-ranked teams will bypass this stage and proceed directly to the finals, per CAFOnline.

The winners of the two bracket finals will secure a place in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

CAF's World Cup qualifying groups

GROUP A: Egypt, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Djibouti

GROUP B: Senegal, DR Congo, Mauritania, Togo, Sudan, South Sudan

GROUP C: Nigeria, South Africa, Benin, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Lesotho

GROUP D: Cameroon, Cape Verde, Angola, Libya, Eswatini, Mauritius

GROUP E: Morocco, Zambia, Congo, Tanzania, Niger, Eritrea (withdrawn)

GROUP F: Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, The Gambia, Burundi, Seychelles

GROUP G: Algeria, Guinea, Uganda, Mozambique, Botswana, Somalia

GROUP H: Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Malawi, Liberia, Sao Tome e Principe

GROUP I: Mali, Ghana, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Comoros, Chad.

When are the CAF World Cup qualifiers?

  • November 13 to 21: first and second matchdays
  • June 3 to 11, 2024: third and fourth matchdays
  • March 17 to 25, 2025: fifth and sixth matchdays
  • September 1 to 9, 2025: seventh and eighth matchdays
  • October 6 to 14, 2025: ninth and 10th matchdays
  • November 10 to 18, 2025: playoff tournament

Africa's best performance at the World Cup

The expansion of the number of teams from the continent, initially limited to five, is a positive acknowledgement of the impressive performances by African sides.

Morocco's remarkable showing at the 2022 World Cup in the Middle East, where they surprised Spain and Portugal to reach the semi-finals, stands out.

Although the North Africans are the sole team to have surpassed the quarter-finals, Ghana, Senegal, and Cameroon achieved the last 8 while Nigeria reached the round of 16 on three occasions.


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Nigerian squad set ahead of WCQ against Lesotho

In related news, Sports Brief also reported on the Nigerian camp in Uyo taking shape as 11 more invited players arrive in the Akwa Ibom State capital ahead of the 2026 World Cup qualifier against the Crocodiles of Lesotho.

Moses Simon, Ademola Lookman, Taiwo Awoniyi, Ola Aina, Alex Iwobi, Calvin Bassey, Semi Ajayi, Joe Aribo, and Bright Osayi Samuel were all welcomed by the state's Football Normalization Committee at the region's airport.

Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe photo
Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe
Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe is a Ligue 1, Bundesliga, and La Liga editor with five-year experience. He previously worked with Sports Corna and 360SportsGH.
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