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FIFA World Cup 2026 qualification: AFC qualifying explained, format for Asia, can India qualify?

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The next edition of the FIFA World Cup will be the largest version of the tournament, expanding from 32 to 48 teams. The longer tournament, with more number of matches, will also allow confederations to have more representation in the premier international tournament.

For Asia, naturally, that paves the way for relatively weaker nations to earn a spot in the World Cup.

How many slots does Asia have in the World Cup?

Asia has been allocated eight direct slots in the World Cup and another possible slot, which will be decided through an inter-confederation playoff.

How many World Cup slots does each continent have?

Following are the slots allocated to each continent for the FIFA World Cup 2026:

  • Europe – UEFA – 16
  • Africa – CAF – 9 and one-third
  • Asia – AFC – 8 and one-third
  • Oceania – OFC – 1 and one-third
  • North and Central America – CONCACAF – 6 (3 hosts) and two-third
  • South America – CONMEBOL – 6 and one-third

How many spots did Asia previously have in the World Cup?

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) previously had just four direct spots and another possible spot through an inter-confederation play-off.

RELATED: FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers points table LIVE: AFC standings

How does World Cup qualifying work for Asia?

There are five rounds of qualification for Asian countries into the FIFA World Cup 2026. Starting with 46 teams, eight teams are finalised through the first four rounds and the winner of the fifth round makes it to the inter-confederation play-off.

Following is the process of selection through each round:

Round 1 – 10 teams from 20 – Teams ranked 27 – 46 in Asia play two matches against each o`pponent in a home-and-away format. The 10 winners in this round make it to Round 2.

Round 2 – 18 teams from 36 – Teams ranked 1-26 in Asia combine with the 10 teams from Round 1 to form a pool of 36 teams. They are then drawn into nine groups of four teams each. The winner and runner-up from each group qualify for Round 3.

Round 3 – 6 teams qualify for the World Cup – The teams are drawn into three groups of six teams each, with teams in each group playing against each other on a home-and-away basis. The top two teams from each group seal a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026.

Round 4 – 2 teams qualify for the World Cup – The remaining teams from the third round are drawn into two groups of three teams each. The teams will play each other in a one-off game at a neutral venue. The winners from each group will qualify for the World Cup and the runners-up will enter Round 5.

Round 5 – 1 team into an inter-confederation play-off – The teams will play two legs on a home-and-away basis with the winner qualifying for the inter-confederation play-off.

How can India qualify for the FIFA World Cup?

India will have to finish in the top two in the second and third rounds of the qualifiers to seal a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026.

Group A standings in second round after Game 1:

Position Teams Matches Won Drawn Lost GF GA GD Points
1 Qatar 1 1 0 0 8 1 7 3
2 India 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 3
3 Kuwait 1 0 0 1 0 1 -1 0
4 Afghanistan 1 0 0 1 1 8 -7 0

If India finishes in the top two of the second round and fails to make it to the top two in the next round:

  • India will have to be a group winner in the fourth round to secure a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026
  • If India fails to make the cut in the fourth round, it will have to win its match in the fifth round to qualify for the inter-confederation play-off. A win in the play-off will secure a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026.

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