For the first time ever, nine African nations will qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, marking a major step forward for the continent’s representation.
In previous years, there has only been enough slots for five teams out of Africa’s 54 nations. This has drawn accusations of unfairness in recent years, as Europe’s 44 countries got 13 slots.
However, as the tournament expands from 32 to 48 teams for the first time, a further four slots have been awarded to Africa.
With the increased allocation, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has revised the qualifying format. The preliminary round, which traditionally involved lower-ranked teams in two-legged ties, has been eliminated.
Instead, all 54 African nations are set to participate in an enlarged group stage, divided into nine pools with six teams each. However, Eritrea’s recent withdrawal from Group E has left it with only five teams.
Each group will play home and away matches, and the winners of each group will directly qualify for the World Cup. The groups, drawn in July in Ivory Coast, feature a mix of seasoned World Cup participants and potential debutants.
The first two matches for each group are scheduled between 15 and 21 November, with the next rounds in June.
Due to the scheduling of the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the remaining six match days for the World Cup qualifiers will be spread across March, September and October of 2025.
A unique opportunity emerges for some second-placed teams in these groups. The top four ranked runners-up will enter the play-offs in November 2025, coming together in an intercontinental play-off tournament that will decide the final two qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup.
Given the new format and the spread of matches over two years, there’s an exciting possibility for first-time qualifiers or underdog nations making a strong showing.
And who knows, Bafana Bafana may even make it.
Compiled by staff writer
Pictured above: Bafana Bafana.
Image source: X