Asia changes qualifying format for 48-team World Cup in 2026

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed a new qualifying format to factor in its expanded number of direct entries for the 48-team World Cup in 2026.

The governing body for football in Asia issued a statement on Monday saying a four-round qualifying system has been put in place to prepare for the eight direct spots allocated to the AFC and a single intercontinental playoff slot after the expansion of the World Cup.

Under the new system, teams ranked from 26th to 47th in Asia will compete in the first round of qualifying, with 11 teams advancing to finish in the top 25 in a second-round home-and-away series, which includes nine groups. Will be

The top two teams in each of those groups will advance to the third round, which will be divided into three groups of six competing in a round-robin format.

The first and second teams in each of those groups will receive direct entries to the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The third and fourth placed teams will advance to the playoff round which will be divided into two groups of three. The winners of those groups will secure a place in the World Cup; The runner-up would go on to the playoffs for Asia’s place in an intercontinental playoff for a last-ditch chance in qualifying.

Asia had four direct entries for the 2022 World Cup, starting on 21 November, with the first and second placed teams – Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan – from the third round of qualifying in two six-team groups. Automatic spot in Qatar.

The two third-placed teams competed for the right to play against the fifth-placed South American team for another World Cup slot. Australia defeated the United Arab Emirates in the Asian playoffs, and then defeated Peru in the Intercontinental playoffs to finish 31 out of 32 at the World Cup in Qatar.

The AFC said the qualifying format for the 2026 World Cup and 2027 Asian Cup was based on the entry of all 47 member federations “and is subject to change based on the final number of entries.”

The AFC plans to schedule its major continental club tournament, the Asian Champions League, starting with a preliminary stage in August next year and ending with a final in May 2024.

The Executive Board also approved the recommendation to abolish the away goal rule as a tiebreaker for teams tied on competition points. Instead, extra time and, if necessary, penalty shootouts will be used to determine the winner of games in the domestic and overseas seasons.

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