The FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: All You Need To Know

The World Cup qualifying draw happened overnight in Russia. It was irrelevant to us Australians, with our path already known, but it did provide a lot of information for the rest of the world and a handshake between the leaders of two monstrous empires, Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin.

Why would anyone trust these two together?

But, being the magnificent multitasking man that I am, I decided that I’d dig in my heels and give the definitive guide to qualification for all 183 teams that can still qualify.

(NOTE: Sorted by number of spots for each confederation).

OFC (0.5 spots)

First round

The first round is a double round robin between the minnows of the minnows, the four lowest ranked OFC teams: AMERICAN SAMOA, COOK ISLANDS, SAMOA, and TONGA. It’s being held in Tonga, as it doubles as qualification for the 2016 OFC Nations Cup. The first placed team moves on to the second round.

Second round (2016 OFC Nations Cup)

The second round of qualifcation doubles as the OFC Nations Cup. It’s split into 2 groups of four.

Group A:

  • TAHITI
  • NEW CALEDONIA
  • PAPUA NEW GUINEA
  • The winner of the first round

Group B:

  • NEW ZEALAND
  • SOLOMON ISLANDS
  • FIJI
  • VANUATU

The top two in each group move on to the Nations Cup knockout stage, while the top three move on to the third round.

Third round

The third round is split into two groups of three, and is also a double round robin. The winner of each group will partake in a two-leg playoff against each other.

Intercontinental play-off

And finally, to make it the World Cup, they need to beat the fifth-placed CONMEBOL team.

CONCACAF (3.5 spots)

Ah, CONCACAF. The qualifying section that has a lot more teams than it should, considering the overall lack of skill of the region. But hey, I guess FIFA needs to make their money from US audiences.

First round (already done)

The first round was two-leg playoffs between the lowest ranked CONCACAF teams. The results were:

  • BERMUDA 8:0 BAHAMAS
  • DOMINICA 3:2 BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
  • BARBADOS 4:1 U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
  • SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS 12:4 TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
  • NICARAGUA 8:0 ANGUILLA
  • BELIZE 1:1 CAYMAN ISLANDS (Belize through on away goals rule)
  • CURAÇAO 4:3 MONTSERRAT

Second round (already done)

The second round was full of more two-leg playoffs, featuring the winners from that round and some other teams.

  • SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES 6:6 GUYANA (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines through on away goals rule)
  • ANTIGUA & BARBUDA 5:4 ST LUCIA
  • GRENADA 2:1 PUERTO RICO
  • CANADA 6:0 DOMINICA
  • BELIZE 5:1 DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
  • GUATEMALA 1:0 BERMUDA
  • ARUBA 3:2 BARBADOS
  • EL SALVADOR 6:3 SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS
  • CURAÇAO 1:1 CUBA (Away goals rule)
  • NICARAGUA 4:1 SURINAME

Third round

You guessed it, yet more playoffs. This round, however, hasn’t happened yet.

  • CURAÇAO v EL SALVADOR
  • CANADA v BELIZE
  • GRENADA v HAITI
  • JAMAICA v NICARAGUA
  • SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES v ARUBA
  • ANTIGUA & BARBUDA v GUATEMALA

Fourth round

The fourth round isn’t a bunch of playoffs, but consists of three groups of four teams, all taking part in a double round robin.

  • Group A: MEXICO, HONDURAS, and two third round winners
  • Group B: COSTA RICA, PANAMA, and two third round winners
  • Group C: UNITED STATES, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, and two third round winners

Fifth round

And, as per the usual, the fifth round is the Hex. A six-team, double round robin playoff, featuring the top two in each group from round 4. The top three will go through, while the team that finishes fourth, will play the fifth team from the AFC.

CONMEBOL (4.5 spots)

As it has been for ages, all ten CONMEBOL sides will play in a double round robin: COLOMBIA, CHILE, PARAGUAY, ARGENTINA, BRAZIL, ECUADOR, VENEZUELA, BOLIVIA, PERU, and URUGUAY. The top four go through, the fifth placed team plays the OFC winner.

AFC (4.5 spots)

Australia’s very own confederation has the most complicated qualification format, in my opinion. Nonetheless, here it goes.

First round (already done)

Like in CONCACAF, the first round consists of two-leg playoffs featuring the lowest ranked teams in the region.

  • INDIA 2:0 NEPAL
  • YEMEN 3:1 PAKISTAN
  • TIMOR-LESTE 5:1 MONGOLIA
  • CAMBODIA 4:1 MACAU
  • CHINESE TAIPEI 2:1 BRUNEI
  • BHUTAN 3:1 SRI LANKA

Second round (in progress)

The second round features 8 groups. The team finishing first in each group will go through to the third round, as well as the top four second placed teams.

  • Group A: PALESTINE, SAUDI ARABIA, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, TIMOR-LESTE, and MALAYSIA
  • Group B: JORDAN, KYRGYZSTAN, AUSTRALIA, TAJIKISTAN, and BANGLADESH
  • Group C: HONG KONG, CHINA PR, QATAR, MALDIVES, and BHUTAN
  • Group D: GUAM, OMAN, IRAN, TURKMENISTAN, and INDIA
  • Group E: SINGAPORE, SYRIA, AFGHANISTAN, JAPAN, and CAMBODIA
  • Group F: THAILAND, IRAQ, VIETNAM, CHINESE TAIPEI, and INDONESIA (Indonesia was banned in May 2015 for governmental interference)
  • Group G: SOUTH KOREA, LEBANON, KUWAIT, MYANMAR, and LAOS
  • Group H: NORTH KOREA, PHILLIPINES, BAHRAIN, UZBEKISTAN, and YEMEN

Third round

The third round will consist of two groups of six teams, comprising the winners of each group and the best-ranked second place teams. The top two in each group will go through, while the third place team goes to the fourth round.

Fourth round

The fourth round is a two-leg playoff between the third-placed teams from each group in the third round. The winner progresses through to the:

Intercontinental play-off

This one is against the fourth-placed CONCACAF team.

CAF (5 spots)

And now, onto Africa, which gets five spots, which I consider a bit more than expected. There are plenty of good Asian teams, so I think FIFA needs to dock a space off the CAF and give it to the AFC.

First round

One of the most efficient methods for trimming teams down really comes into its own during the qualifiers, the 2-leg playoffs.

  • SOMALIA v NIGER
  • SOUTH SUDAN v MAURITIANA
  • GAMBIA v NAMIBIA
  • SÃO TOMÉ AND PRÍNCIPE v ETHIOPIA
  • CHAD v SIERRA LEONE
  • COMOROS v LESOTHO
  • DJIBOUTI v SWAZILAND
  • ERITREA v BOTSWANA
  • SEYCHELLES v BURUNDI
  • LIBERIA v GUINEA-BISSAU
  • CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC v MADAGASCAR
  • MAURITIUS v KENYA
  • TANZANIA v MALAWI

Second round

Yet again, more two-leg playoffs. A bunch of other teams get thrown in as well.

  • CAMEROON v first-round winner
  • TUNISIA v first-round winner
  • GUINEA v first-round winner
  • CONGO v first-round winner
  • EGYPT v first-round winner
  • GHANA v first-round winner
  • NIGERIA v first-round winner
  • MALI v first-round winner
  • DR CONGO v first-round winner
  • IVORY COAST v first-round winner
  • SENEGAL v first-round winner
  • CAPE VERDE v first-round winner
  • ALGERIA v first-round winner
  • SUDAN v ZAMBIA
  • LIBYA v RWANDA
  • MOROCCO v EQUATORIAL GUINEA
  • MOZAMBIQUE v GABON
  • BENIN v BURKINA FASO
  • TOGO v UGANDA
  • ANGOLA v SOUTH AFRICA

Third round

The twenty winners from the second round will be sorted into five groups of four, where they will play each other twice. The top placed team in each group qualifies for the World Cup.

UEFA (13 spots)

And now, onto UEFA. This has one of the simplest qualification schemes, but it’s offset a bit by the fact that they have so many teams and matches to get through.

First round

The first round contains seven groups of six and two groups of five. It would be nine groups of six, due to the 54-team nature of UEFA, but Russia, as hosts, don’t have to qualify and Gibraltar hasn’t bothered sending a team are not FIFA members, only UEFA ones. The groups are, as such:

  • Group A: NETHERLANDS, FRANCE, SWEDEN, BULGARIA, BELGIUM, and LUXEMBOURG
  • Group B: PORTUGAL, SWITZERLAND, HUNGARY, FAROE ISLANDS, LATVIA, and ANDORRA
  • Group C: GERMANY, CZECH REPUBLIC, NORTHERN IRELAND, NORWAY, AZERBAIJAN, and SAN MARINO
  • Group D: WALES, AUSTRIA, SERBIA, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, MOLDOVA, and GEORGIA
  • Group E: ROMANIA, DENMARK, POLAND, MONTENEGRO, ARMENIA, and KAZAKHSTAN
  • Group F: ENGLAND, SLOVAKIA, SCOTLAND, SLOVENIA, LITHUANIA, and MALTA
  • Group G: SPAIN, ITALY, ALBANIA, ISRAEL, MACEDONIA and LIECHTENSTEIN
  • Group H: BELGIUM, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, GREECE, ESTONIA, and CYPRUS
  • Group I: CROATIA, ICELAND, UKRAINE, TURKEY, and FINLAND (RUSSIA paired with this group to get practice in)

The top team in each group goes directly through to the World Cup, while the second placed teams are ranked. All but the last ranked will go through to the second round.

Second round

There are eight teams in it. Guess what they’ll do…go on…

Yep, four two-leg playoffs, with the winners qualifying.


There we go. It’s taken two days, writing out 209 country names, and 1,365 words, making this the longest piece ever finished on Statscrunch, but I’ve done it.

I guess now I have to make my predictions.

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