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.
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.
2022 ➡️ 🇲🇦🇹🇳🇸🇳🇬🇭🇨🇲
— CAF (@CAF_Online) July 12, 2023
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.
New CAF WCQ format:
The 54 member associations will be divided into nine groups of six teams each.
Group winners will qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
The four best runners-up will go to play-offs
— Lorenz Köhler (@Lorenz_KO) May 19, 2023
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.
— CAF (@CAF_Online) July 13, 2023
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.
World Cup edition
Nigerian squad set ahead of WCQ against Lesotho
In related news, Kimbi Sports 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.