Fifa proposes new six-team play-off for 2026 World Cup

Recommendations for the expanded World Cup will go before the Fifa Council for approval in May. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Recommendations for the expanded World Cup will go before the Fifa Council for approval in May. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Fifa has announced its proposed allocation of places for the 48-team 2026 World Cup and revealed a six-nation play-off could be used to determine the last two spots.

Football’s world governing body has proposed there will be 16 direct slots for European teams at the expanded tournament, which is the quota Uefa had sought.

The recommendations will be submitted to be approved by the Fifa council in May.

Fifa president Gianni 
Infantino’s plan to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 countries was given unanimous backing by the council in January.

The competition, which has had an unchanged format since 1998, is set to feature 16 groups of three teams under the revamp.

Fifa stated: “The recommendation will now be submitted for the ratification of the Fifa council, whose next meeting is scheduled for 9 May in Manama, Bahrain, two days prior to the 67th Fifa congress.”

Infantino and the presidents of each of the six confederations convened yesterday at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich and agreed on the proposed slot allocation.

As well as Europe’s quota being increased by three places to 16, it has been recommended there are nine spots for teams from Africa, eight for Asia, six for South America, six for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and one for Oceania.

The host country will still qualify automatically, with their place being taken from the quota of their confederation. With the United States, Mexico, and Canada weighing up a co-hosting bid for 2026, the decision on which hosts will get direct entry is set to be made by the council and not individual confederations.

Fifa’s statement, outlining the plans, added: “In the event of co-hosting, the number of host countries to qualify automatically would be decided by the Fifa council.”

The proposed play-off will feature one team from each confederation with the exception of Uefa, plus one from the host nation’s confederation, with two of the teams being seeded based on the world rankings.

The unseeded teams will be involved in a two-match first round, with the two winners from that then facing a seeded team each for a World Cup berth. The play-off will be contested in the same country as the World Cup and used as a test event, and Fifa specified November 2025 as the likely month in which it would be played.

Welcoming the Fifa announcement, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, whose members currently fill 26 of the top 48 places in Fifa’s rankings of 211 national teams, said Europe would be “fairly represented” by the quotas.

He said: “We are satisfied with the proposed slot allocation for the Fifa World Cup as of the 2026 edition, which was agreed today by all confederation presidents, at the bureau of the Fifa council meeting in Zurich. We feel that Uefa will be fairly represented with a total of 16 national associations competing in the new format of the World Cup.

“We look forward to this 
proposal being ratified by the Fifa council in Bahrain on the 9th of May.”