Firstly, What is the World Cup?
The FIFA World Cup, also known as the Football World Cup, is an international soccer tournament.
It is the most popular sporting event on the planet and takes place every four years, over the course of four weeks.
The World Cup was first held in 1930 and there are 32 teams that compete for the title of world champion.
The winner is crowned after playing a series of games with other teams.
Hundreds of qualifying matches are played in the three years leading up to the month-long event.
So, How Do Soccer Teams Qualify For The World Cup?
The road to the FIFA World Cup is a tough one, with only 32 teams making it to the world’s biggest sporting event. There are several ways to qualify, the main ones being:
- Being the host country
- Winning the previous World Cup
- Winning the continental World Cup for your region
- Winning the continental World Cup for the region of the host country
- Being a confederation member with multiple qualifying spots, e.g., UEFA (Europe) and AFC (Asia), etc.
There are also stages for a soccer team hoping to qualify for the world cup, these two stages are:
- The group stage
Each team will be divided into ten groups of five or six teams. The ten group winners earn a spot in the World Cup.
- The playoffs
The ten group runners-up are joined by the two best group winners of the UEFA Nations League overall ranking that have neither qualified directly for the final tournament as European Qualifiers group winners nor entered the playoffs already as European Qualifiers group runners-up.
The twelve teams will be assigned to one of three playoff paths leading to one semi-final and one final. The three paths winners qualify for the World Cup.
FIFA’s Six Confederations
The World Cup has individual systems that will decide who will qualify for each region of FIFA’s six confederations. These systems are used to pick which nations will represent them at the World Cup.
The process is arranged by FIFA’s six confederations which are:
- North America & Central America (which includes the Caribbean)
- South America
The systems they each follow have been detailed below.
The African zone features two rounds to narrow the number of teams down to 20, where they participate in the qualification’s final round.
Africa will have five representatives in the World Cup from each group winner.
The competition is divided into two qualifying rounds, after which the field is reduced to 12. From that 12, two groups of six are then formed, with teams playing each other home and away. The two winners and two runner-ups from each group automatically qualify for the World Cup.
The third-placed team in each group plays the winner of the Oceania zone in a home-and-away series.
The European zone alone has 52 teams vying for 13 slots in the finals. The European zone is also divided into two rounds.
Seven round-robin, home-and-away groups of six teams are divided into the first round. And, two round-robin, home-and-away groups of five teams are also being held.
Each of the nine group winners is automatically qualified for the World Cup. The eight best runner-ups are advanced to the next round.
In the second round, eight teams are matched in four games, in which the aggregate goals are determined, and the winner advances to the tournament.
North, Central America, and the Caribbean (CONCACAF)
North, Central America, and the Caribbean is probably the most complex region. There are four qualifying rounds used to reduce this huge selection right down to 35 teams and a few slots.
Utilizing multiple sets of small group stages along with home-and-away knockout-style matches; this system massively favors the big dogs of the region, such as the United States and Mexico.
Qualifying concludes with a sixth-team group, a home-and-away group. The top three teams will go to the World Cup. The fourth-placed team still has a chance to qualify. However, they will play the fifth-placed side from South America.
Oceania determines which countries will compete for its only slot in the World Cup by means of the tournament at the South Pacific Games.
In the second stage of qualifying, the top three finishers from the South Pacific Games will be joined by the pre-seeded team.
The winner of the group will earn a chance to play for a place in the World Cup in a two-game playoff against the fifth-place finisher in the Asian Zone.
South America (CONMEBOL)
The South American contingent at the World Cup is selected by a 10-team league, in which each team plays each other twice.
The top four qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed nation having to face off in a playoff against the fourth-placed nation from the North, Central America, and Caribbean Zones.