A total of 39 UEFA teams entered the competition. However, Liechtenstein withdrew before the draw was made. Moreover, firstly the CIS, then Russia took the spot of Soviet Union after the Soviet Union was dissolved, and Yugoslavia were suspended by FIFA due to UN sanctions stemming from the Yugoslav wars. The European zone was allocated 13 places (out of 24) in the final tournament. Germany, the defending champions, qualified automatically, leaving 12 spots open for competition between 37 teams.
The 37 teams were divided into 6 groups, five of six teams each and one of seven teams (though Group 5 ended up with just five teams after Yugoslavia were suspended). The teams would play against each other on a home-and-away basis. The group winners and runners-up would qualify.