Africa reveals 2026 World Cup qualifying format

The 54 member nations of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will be divided into nine groups of six for the 2026 World Cup qualifying competition, the organisation said on Friday.

Each group winner secures a place at the first finals featuring 48 teams, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar involved 32 countries.

The four best group runners-up go into play-offs with the winners progressing to an inter-confederation tournament with two World Cup places up for grabs.

A statement released after a CAF executive committee meeting in Algeria said the qualifying draw will be made in the Benin city of Cotonou on July 12.

The first two of 10 matchdays are scheduled for November 13-21 this year, followed by two each from June 3-11 next year and March 17-25, September 1-9 and October 6-14 in 2025.

November 10-18 in 2025 has been set aside for the four-team play-offs with the winners joining two North and Central America countries and one each from Asia, Oceania and South America.

Morocco made history in Qatar by becoming the first World Cup semi-finalists from Africa. They lost 2-0 to France in the penultimate round and 2-1 to Croatia in a play-off for third place.

Meanwhile, CAF also announced that the draw for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast will be made on October 12.

Four qualifying rounds have been played with the remaining two set for June 12-20 and September 4-12.

Apart from Ivory Coast, who are automatic entrants as hosts, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia have booked places, leaving 17 places to be filled.

On the club front, CAF are increasing prize money for their two competitions, the Champions League and the Confederation Cup, which is the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

Champions League winners will pocket four million dollars (3.7 million euros) — up from 2.5 million last season — runners-up two million and semi-finalists 1.2 million.

Confederation Cup title-holders get two million, an increase of 750,000, runners-up one million and semi-finalists 750,000.

Record 10-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt qualified on Friday for the two-leg Champions League final, where they will face Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa or Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.

Young Africans of Tanzania and USM Alger booked places in the Confederation Cup final on Wednesday.

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