Grueling African World Cup qualifying gets under way

The New York/New Jersey's FIFA World Cup 2026 logo is revealed during the kickoff event in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The fact that Africa will have more spots available at the successive International Cup finals has not eased the difficulty of the qualifying process, which begins this week and is sometimes referred to as the most difficult in all of international football.

Asia and South America have already started qualifying tournaments for the 2026 tournament. On Wednesday, Africa will begin its two-year qualification campaign to determine who will take the nine automatic slots reserved for the continent at the tournament that Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host.

The increase in the number of countries competing in the World Cup from 32 to 48 means that Africa’s quota of finalists has grown from five to nine, with the potential of another spot being earned through a new playoff system that has been implemented.

The immense distances that need to be traveled, along with inadequate and infrequent aircraft connections, harsh climate conditions, barebones facilities, and a culture of antagonism towards visiting teams, have given Africa’s qualifying procedure the reputation of being the most difficult of the six continental confederations.

Carlos Queiroz, who has coached Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Portugal, South Africa, and Qatar, has said that the African qualifying round is “a nightmare.”

The 54 African teams that qualified for the World Cup in 2026 were split into nine different groups, and only the group winners were guaranteed a spot in the finals.

The top four teams in the standings for the runners-up position will compete against one another in a playoff to determine which team will advance to the new-style intercontinental playoff event. In this tournament, one team from each continent will compete against one another in a mini-tournament to earn the final two spots in the World Cup line-up.

Beginning with Egypt in 1934, a total of thirteen different African countries have competed in the finals of the World Cup. Cameroon has participated in the competition finals the most, totaling eight times.

They open their campaign with a match against Mauritius on Friday at their stadium in Douala. Then, they have a more formidable challenge on Tuesday when they travel to Libya to take on the other teams in Group D.

On Thursday, Morocco was scheduled to play Eritrea, the smallest nation in East Africa, but Eritrea has already withdrawn from the match. Morocco was the first African nation to attend the World Cup semifinals the previous year.


There was no explanation offered, but the reclusive nation in the Horn of Africa has a history of players defecting and seeking political refuge when they competed outside of the country in the past.

Next Tuesday, Morocco will go to Tanzania to play their first encounter in Group E. They will also play Tanzania in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, which will be held in Ivory Coast in January.

Zimbabwe was kicked out of the most recent qualifiers because they had failed to settle the contract of a former coach. Now that they have returned from another ban, this time for political meddling in the running of their football association, they will face Rwanda away on Wednesday in the first of the 260 African group qualifiers that will end in October 2025.

Zimbabwe has not participated in a complete international match in nearly two years, and the nation is one of 19 nations whose facilities have been criticized for falling short of the international standard. As a result, these nations have been compelled to play their home matches at neutral locations.

After their debut encounter in Group C on Wednesday, Zimbabwe will remain in Rwanda and play host to Nigeria there on Sunday.

Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eswatini, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea, Lesotho, Namibia, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan are the other countries that are not allowed to play at home.

Hi, I'm John, a seasoned sports writer with a passion for football. With over 10 years of experience covering the NFL, I provide in-depth analysis and engaging writing that keeps readers informed and entertained.

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