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

Germany won the 2014 World Cup with victory over Argentina in Brazil

Fifa is proposing a six-nation play-off tournament to decide the last two slots at the 48-team World Cup in 2026.

Football’s world governing body has revealed its plans for how the 48 places will be allocated, with 16 Europeans teams set to qualify.

The proposals – approved by Fifa’s president and his counterparts at the six confederations – are expected to be ratified by the Fifa Council on 9 May.

Fifa members voted in January to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

How have the slots been allocated?

All six confederations will have at least one team in the expanded tournament, with no inter-confederation play-offs prior to the play-off tournament.

The World Cup hosts will still qualify automatically, with their slot taken from their confederation’s quota.

The recommended places for each confederation are:

  • Africa – 9 (up from 5)
  • Asia – 8 (up from 4 or 5)
  • Europe – 16 (up from 13)
  • North, Central America and Caribbean – 6 (up from 3 or 4)
  • Oceania – 1 (from 0 or 1)
  • South America – 6 (up from 4 or 5)

How will the play-off tournament work?

Should the proposals be ratified, as expected, it will consist of one team from each confederation except Uefa, with the final team taken from the confederation of the host country.

Two teams will be seeded based on their Fifa ranking, and then face the winners of two knockout games involving the four unseeded teams, with the prize a place in the World Cup.

The play-off will be played in the World Cup’s host country, with November 2025 suggested as a possible date for the 2026 qualifying play-off.

It will also double as a test event for the main tournament.

Analysis

BBC Radio 5 live sports news correspondent Richard Conway

Uefa has achieved its stated aim of 16 slots. Its president, Aleksander Ceferin, made it clear that would be his demand in return for supporting an expanded tournament.

Ratification will be straightforward given the heads of the confederations have carved this up between them.

The play-off tournament is a new idea.

It may sound the death knell for the Confederations Cup given Fifa has described the new tournament as a test event. Fifa is keen to expand the Club World Cup as a summer tournament, and moving the qualifying tournament to November may create the necessary space in an already packed schedule.

There are significant issues still to be resolved in qualification processes, though.

Conmebol (South America) has been granted six slots. Given there are only 10 countries in the confederation, questions have been raised over how to make qualification an attractive proposition to broadcasters etc, given the ease with which some countries will qualify.

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