ZURICH: FIFA is recommending a six-nation play-off tournament to decide the last two slots at the 48-team World Cup in 2026.
Proposals to be put before congress in Bahrain in May suggest this may mean the scrapping of the Confederations Cup as a warm-up tournament; it has been heavily criticised by clubs and some national managers – including Germany’s Joachim Low – as placing unnecessary extra pressure on players.
Plans drawn up by the world football federation president Gianni Infantino and heads of the six regional confederations will be put before FIFA Council two days before congress with the expectation of unanimous endorsement.
In January the council decided to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2026 with Europe continuing to ‘own’ the largest share of 16 slots.
Under the new proposals all six confederations will have at least one team in the preparatory tournament which will replace the current intercontinental play-offs.
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).
The playoff tournament would consist of one team from each confederation except UEFA, with a 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., possibly meaning the scrapping of the Confederations Cup.