FIFA World Cup qualification

The FIFA World Cup qualification is the process that a national association football team goes through to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals. The FIFA World Cup is the largest international team sport competition in the world with a qualification process required to reduce the large field of countries from 211 to just 32 for the World Cup finals.
Qualifying tournaments are held within the six FIFA continental zones, and are organized by their respective confederations. For each tournament, FIFA decides beforehand the number of places in the finals allocated to each of the continental zones, based on the numbers or relative strength of the confederations' teams.
The hosts of the World Cup receive an automatic berth. Unlike many other sports, results of the previous World Cups or of the continental championships are not taken into account. Until 2002, the defending champions also received an automatic berth, but starting from the 2006 World Cup this is no longer the case.
The current qualification process is the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification which commenced in 2019 and finishes in 2022.


Over many years, the World Cup's qualification has evolved, from having no qualification at all in 1930, when the tournament was invitational and only 13 teams entered, to the current two-year process. The first World Cup qualifying match was played on 11 June when Sweden defeated Estonia 6–2 in Stockholm. The first ever goal in a World Cup qualifying match was scored 7 minutes into the game: it was scored according to some sources by Swedish captain Knut Kroon, or according to other sources by Estonian goalkeeper Evald Tipner.
While the number of teams which qualified for the finals has increased steadily, from 16 between 1934 and 1978, to 24 between 1982 and 1994, and finally to 32 starting from 1998, the qualification format has been basically the same throughout the history of the World Cup. The teams have been grouped continentally, and they competed for a fixed number of places, with one or two places awarded to the winners of intercontinental play-offs.

Qualification spots by continent

The table below lists the numbers of spots allocated by FIFA for each continent in each tournament. If no places were allocated to a continent as per the case of Oceania prior to 1966 and Africa in 1938-1954 and 1966, this does not indicate an exclusion of those continents by FIFA, but rather that no country from those continents made an entry to the aforementioned Cups.
A large part of Africa was under European colonial rule for the majority of the 20th century. Consequently, only three African countries were affiliated to FIFA in 1954: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt entered the 1934, 1938 and 1954 Cups, but not the 1930 or 1950 Cups, while Sudan and Ethiopia did not enter the Cup until 1958. Though an African country, Egypt entered in 1938 and 1954 in the European group, and therefore the table below gives no data about Africa for these two Cups.
Places in the intercontinental play-offs count as 0.[|5] spots, and numbers in bold represent the winners of the intercontinental play-offs. "+C" denotes an additional spot for defending champions, and "+H" denotes an additional spot for host nations.
[|1] In 1938, Austria withdrew after qualifying on being annexed by Germany and were not replaced, so only 15 teams, 12 of them European, played in the finals.
[|2] In 1950, India, Scotland, and Turkey withdrew after qualifying and were not replaced, so only 13 teams, none of them Asian and 6 of them European, played in the finals.
[|3] Initially in 1958, Africa and Asia together were given 1 spot, while Europe was given 9 spots. However, after Israel won the African and Asian zone without playing any matches due to withdrawals of other teams, a special play-off was arranged between them and a European team. So in effect, Africa and Asia together were given 0.5 spots, while Europe was given 9.5 spots.
[|4] In 1962, Europe was given 8 automatic spots, plus 2 additional spots in the intercontinental play-offs, in effect giving them 9 spots. The two European teams played an African team and an Asian team respectively, and both European teams won. Therefore, 10 European teams played in the finals.
5 In 1966, Africa and Asia were given one place, contested between the winner of a four team Asian tournament and three group winners from the second round of African qualifiers. All 15 African teams subsequently withdrew to protest FIFA's failure to allocate a place to an African team, leaving North Korea to qualify.
6 In 1994, there were two rounds of intercontinental play-offs. First, an Oceanian team played a team from North and Central America and Caribbean, and the winner then played a South American team.
7 From the 2006 qualifiers on, the defending champion no longer has an automatic spot secured.

Qualification competition entrants over time

The number of teams entering the qualification process and the number of matches played have been steadily growing over time. Although Egypt, an African country, entered qualifying in 1938 and 1954, it was in the European group; thus, the number of teams for Africa is considered to be zero in these years.
Continental zone1934






















North and Central America
and Caribbean2
South America42869910101010101010910101010101010
Total entrants32373445555674759910710912111614717419919820542042102115
Teams played327211933464951689095103110103130168193194200420320812
Matches played27222657899212717222625230630831449764377784785382887211
Goals scored14196121208341325393542620723797801735144619222452246423442303245432
Average goals per match5.224.364.653.653.833.533.093.152.742.872.602.602.342.912.993.162.912.752.812.812.91

Only teams that played at least one match are considered for the purposes of first appearance. Teams that withdrew prior to the qualification, or that qualified to the World Cup by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals, are not considered.
;Successor and renamed teams
;Teams' participations prior to their actual debuts in qualification
;Other notes

National teams results in World Cup qualification (1934–2022)

Teams in bold are currently participating or are yet to start in the 2022 qualification. The table is updated to the matches played in November 2019.

Top scorers in preliminary competition (1934–2022)

Players in bold are still active at international level.
Qualification tournaments
1Carlos Ruiz39470.752002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018
2Ali Daei35500.701994, 1998, 2002, 2006
3Cristiano Ronaldo30380.792006, 2014, 2018
4Karim Bagheri28290.971998, 2002, 2010
5Kazuyoshi Miura27251.081994, 1998
626400.651998, 2002, 2006, 2010
7Tim Cahill25360.692006, 2010, 2014, 2018
8Carlos Pavón25370.681998, 2002, 2006, 2010
9Edin Džeko24310.772010, 2014, 2018
10Jared Borgetti23240.962002, 2006, 2010
11Robert Lewandowski21280.752010, 2014, 2018
12Paulo Wanchope21370.571998, 2002, 2006
13Lionel Messi21450.472010, 2014, 2018
14Luis Suárez21480.442010, 2014, 2018
15Archie Thompson20151.332002, 2006, 2014
16Stern John20490.411998, 2002, 2006, 2010
17Vaughan Coveny19191.001998, 2002, 2006
18Emmanuel Sanon19200.951974, 1978
19Pauleta19240.792002, 2006
20Zlatan Ibrahimović19290.662002, 2006, 2010, 2014
21Hernán Crespo19330.581998, 2002, 2006
22Didier Drogba18190.952006, 2010, 2014
23Moumouni Dagano18240.752002, 2006, 2010
24Samuel Eto'o18290.622002, 2006, 2010, 2014
25Raúl Díaz Arce18290.621994, 1998, 2002
26Marcelo Salas18320.561998, 2002, 2006, 2010
27Robbie Keane18370.492002, 2006, 2010, 2014
28Clint Dempsey18430.422010, 2014, 2018
29Iván Zamorano17111.541990, 1998, 2002
30Deon McCaulay17161.062010, 2014, 2018
31Mohammad Al-Sahlawi17171.002014, 2018
32Yang Xu17190.892014, 2018, 2022
33Kubilay Türkyilmaz17190.891990, 1994, 1998, 2002
34Dimitar Berbatov17240.712002, 2006, 2010
35Alexander Frei17250.682002, 2006, 2010
36Ahmed Khalil17310.542014, 2018
37Álvaro Saborío17410.412006, 2010, 2014

Current format

Currently, 32 places are available in the final tournament until 2022. One of them is reserved for the host nation, but if two or more nations co-host the competition, each is awarded a place.
From 1934 to 2002, one berth was reserved for the winners of the previous World Cup, but in November 2001, FIFA announced that the defending champion would no longer get automatic entry to the subsequent tournament, starting with the 2006 finals. This decision was made to address the issue of the returning champions being at a disadvantage to their fellow competitors due to having not played a competitive match in the previous two years.
The problem was amply demonstrated at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, as returning champions France tumbled out in the first round, finishing bottom of their group without scoring a single goal. 2002 winner Brazil qualified for 2006 at the top of their qualifiers group, but Italy, defending champions from 2006, finished bottom of their group in 2010, despite playing in the qualifying matches. At Brazil 2014, 2010 champions Spain finished third in their group and failed to advance to the Round of 16, despite having qualified as first in their group.
FIFA decides beforehand the number of spots awarded to each of the continental zones. For the 2022 World Cup, the following numbers were used:
The number of berths allocated per continent is widely debated, with the main point of contention being the extent to which berths should be allocated to regions based on sheer population vs. talent. A historically weaker continent, Africa has called for more places, as they are allocated only five in comparison to Europe's 13.
In early October 2016, it was announced that the World Cup would have featured 40 teams starting with the 2026 tournament, then FIFA President Gianni Infantino stated his support for a 48-team World Cup, mainly to address African concerns. On 10 January 2017, the FIFA Council voted unanimously to expand the World Cup to a 48 team tournament that will open with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, with two teams progressing from each group to a knockout tournament starting with a round of 32. The new format for the qualifying process has yet to be confirmed, other than a play-off tournament that consists of one team from each confederation and one additional team from the confederation of the host country for the last two World Cup berths.
These numbers vary slightly between tournaments.
Qualification in all zones ends at approximately the same time, in September–November of the year preceding the finals. For 2022, qualification will end in March, eight months preceding the Qatar tournament.
The formats of the qualification tournaments differ between confederations and over time. The systems used in 2022 are outlined below.


The CAF qualification process reverted to the format used for the 2014 qualification. It began with one preliminary round to narrow the field of 28 entrants to 14 teams in September 2019.
The group stage consists of 10 groups of four, with the group winners advancing to the two-legged, home-and-away third round. The five winners advance to the World Cup finals.


Qualifying was altered significantly from the 2014 method, with changes to the structure of the preliminary rounds – which were held before the AFC's main draw. One home-and-away preliminary round reduced the 12 weakest entrants to six, which then joined the 34 strongest sides in eight groups of five, with the winners and 4 best runners-up advancing to the final group stage, comprising two 6-team groups. If Qatar is among the group winners or runners-up, only the seven other group winners will advance and the fifth-best group runners-up will enter instead. The winners and runners-up of the two final groups of six advance to the World Cup finals with the two third-placed sides playing off for the right to play in an inter-confederation play-off for a final World Cup spot. The first two rounds also act as the qualifiers for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
A total of 24 teams eliminated from World Cup qualification in the second round compete in the third round of 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification, where they will be divided into six groups of four teams and compete for the remaining slots of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. The 24 teams consist of the 16 highest ranked teams eliminated in the second round, and the eight teams that advanced from the play-off round of 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification which are contested by the remaining 12 teams eliminated in the second round.


The European qualification was changed from the 2010 to 2018 systems. The 55 national teams will be divided into five groups of six teams and five groups of five, with the group winners qualifying directly to the finals.
The introduction of the new UEFA Nations League partly changed the qualifying format, although this has yet to be validated by FIFA. Two teams based on Nations League performance join the group runners-up to make it 12 teams drawn into three paths, playing two rounds of single-match ties in each path, for the remaining three places.

North and Central America and Caribbean

The 2022 CONCACAF qualification process changed significantly from the 2018 qualification cycle. There are two separate preliminary group stages, one for the six highest-ranked teams and another for the 29 lowest-ranked teams, to be based on the June 2020 FIFA rankings. The top-seeded round – still referred to as the "hexagonal" because there are six teams involved – will see the top three teams advance to the World Cup finals, while the fourth-placed side will enter a play-off against the winner of the lower-seeded knockout phase for a spot in the inter-continental play-offs.
The lower-seeded round will have the remaining 29 teams divided into five groups of four teams and three groups of three to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The winners of each group will advance to a knockout phase, each of the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final to be played in a two-legged home-and-away series. The winner of the knockout phase will advance to a play-off against the fourth-placed team of the top-seeded round for a spot in the inter-confederation play-offs.


has yet to be finalised, but the following could be like this: The first stage will take place with one group of the four lowest ranked teams and the winner advances to the second stage. In the second stage with two groups of four teams each, the top three advance to the third round. Two groups of three teams contest the third round, or final group stage, and the winners of each group enter a two-leg final. The winners of this final advance to an inter-confederation play-off for a World Cup spot.

South America

As in the previous qualification series CONMEBOL qualification consists of a single group of all entrants. Unlike qualifying tournaments where the fixtures were pre-determined as applied until the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, the fixtures were determined by a draw held on 17 December 2019.
The top 4 teams from the 10-team group advance to the World Cup finals, while the fifth placed team enters an inter-confederation play-off for a World Cup spot.

Intercontinental play-offs

Like the previous 2018 tournament, the pairings for the two play-offs will be determined by an open draw on an unknown date. Intercontinental play-offs are played as home-and-away ties.

Qualification tournament rules

Qualification tournaments generally consist of a number of stages, made up of groups or knock-out ties.


In all group tournaments, three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. FIFA has set the order of the tie-breakers for teams that finish level on points:
  1. goal difference in all group matches
  2. greater number of goals scored in all group matches
Where teams are still not able to be separated, the following tie-breakers are used:
  1. greater number of points obtained in matches between the tied teams
  2. goal difference in matches between the tied teams
  3. greater number of goals scored in matches between the tied teams
  4. goals scored away from home in matches between the tied teams, if the tie is only between two teams
Where teams are still equal, then a play-off on neutral ground, with extra time and penalties if necessary will be played if FIFA deems such a play-off able to be fitted within the coordinated international match calendar. If this is not deemed feasible, then the result will be determined by fair play points and then the drawing of lots.
Note that this order of tie-breaker application has not always been applied. While it was used in the 2010 qualifiers, the qualification for the 2006 World Cup used the head-to-head comparison prior to goal difference. If these rules had applied in 2006, then Nigeria would have qualified rather than Angola.

Home-and-away ties

Most knock-out qualifiers are played over two legs. The team that scores a greater aggregate number of goals qualifies. Away goals rule applies. If these rules fail to determine the winner, extra time and penalty shootouts are used.
Occasionally – usually when one entrant lacks adequate facilities to host international matches – ties are played over a single leg, in which case matches level after 90 minutes will go to extra time and then to a penalty shootout if required.
Alternatively, "home" matches can be played in neutral countries, or occasionally one team will host both matches. In the latter case the visiting team will still be considered as the "home" team for one of the legs – which may determine which side advances under the away goals rule, as occurred in CONCACAF qualification in 2010.