FIFA World Cup qualification

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The FIFA World Cup qualification is the process that a national association football team goes through to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals. The FIFA World Cup is the largest international team sport competition in the world with a qualification process required to reduce the large field of countries from 211 to just 32 for the World Cup finals until the 2022 edition.

Qualifying tournaments are held within the six FIFA continental zones (Africa, Asia, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America, Oceania, Europe), and are organized by their respective confederations. For each tournament, FIFA decides beforehand the number of places in the finals allocated to each of the continental zones, based on the numbers or relative strength of the confederations' teams.

The hosts of the World Cup receive an automatic berth. Unlike many other sports, results of the previous World Cups or of the continental championships are not taken into account. Until 2002, the defending champions also received an automatic berth, but starting from the 2006 World Cup this is no longer the case.

The current qualification process is the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification which commenced in 2015 and will finish in late 2017.

History[edit]

Over many years, the World Cup's qualification has evolved, from having no qualification at all in 1930, when the tournament was invitational and only 13 teams entered, to the current two-year process. The first World Cup qualifying match was played on 11 June 1933 when Sweden defeated Estonia 6–2 in Stockholm. The first ever goal in a World Cup qualifying match was scored 7 minutes into the game: it was scored according to some sources by Swedish captain Knut Kroon, or according to other sources by Estonian goalkeeper Evald Tipner (own goal).

While the number of teams which qualified for the finals has increased steadily, from 16 between 1934 and 1978, to 24 between 1982 and 1994, and finally to 32 starting from 1998, the qualification format has been basically the same throughout the history of the World Cup. The teams have been grouped continentally, and they competed for a fixed number of places, with one or two places awarded to the winners of intercontinental play-offs.

Qualification spots by continent[edit]

The table below lists the numbers of spots allocated by FIFA for each continent in each tournament. If no places were allocated to a continent, such as in the case of Oceania prior to 1966 and Africa in 1950, this does not indicate an exclusion of those continents by FIFA, but rather that no country of those continents made an entry to the aforementioned Cups.[1]

A large part of Africa was under colonial rule during part of the 20th century, mainly the first half of the century. As of 1954, only 3 African countries were affiliated to FIFA: Egypt, in 1923, Sudan, in 1948, and Ethiopia, in 1952.[2] Sudan and Ethiopia made entries for no Cup prior to 1958. Egypt made entries for the 1934, 1938 and 1954 Cups, though not for the 1930 and 1950 Cups. Though an African country, Egypt entered in 1938 and 1954 in the European group, therefore the table below gives no data about Africa for these two Cups.

Places in the intercontinental play-offs count as 0.5 spots. Numbers in bold represent the winners of the intercontinental play-offs. "+C" denotes an additional spot for defending champions. "+H" denotes an additional spot for hosts.

Places allocated for continents
Continental zone 1934
Italy
(16)
1938
France
(15)1
1950
Brazil
(13)2
1954
Switzerland
(16)
1958
Sweden
(16)
1962
Chile
(16)
1966
England
(16)
1970
Mexico
(16)
1974
West Germany
(16)
1978
Argentina
(16)
1982
Spain
(24)
1986
Mexico
(24)
1990
Italy
(24)
1994
United States
(24)
1998
France
(32)
2002
South Korea
Japan
(32)
2006
Germany
(32)6
2010
South Africa
(32)
2014
Brazil
(32)
2018
Russia
(32)
2022
Qatar
(32)
2026

(48)
Africa 1 0 0.53 0.54 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 5 5 5 5
+H
5 5 5 9
Asia 1 12 1 0.54 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 3.5 2.5
+2H
4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 +H 8
Oceania Did Not Exist 0.5 0.5 0.255 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 1
Europe 12 111
+C+H
72
+C
11
+H
9.53
+C+H
8+4
2×0.5
9
+H
8
+C
8.5
+H
8.5
+C
13
+H
12.5
+C
13
+H
12
+C
14
+H
13.5
+C
13
+H
13 13 13
+H
13 16
North and Central America
and Caribbean
1 1 2 1 1 0.5 1 1
+H
1 1 2 1
+H
2 1.255
+H
3 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 6
South America 2 1 4
+H
1
+C
3 3.5
+C+H
3
+C
3 2.5
+C
2.5
+H
3
+C
4 2.5
+C
3.55 4
+C
4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5
+H
4.5 4.5 6
Play-Off Tournament Did Not Exist 2
Total 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 24 24 24 24 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 48
  • 1 In 1938, Austria withdrew after qualifying after being annexed by Germany and were not replaced, so only 15 teams, 12 of them European, played in the finals.
  • 2 In 1950, India, Scotland, and Turkey withdrew after qualifying and were not replaced, so only 13 teams, none of them Asian and 6 of them European, played in the finals.
  • 3 Initially in 1958, Africa and Asia together were given 1 spot, while Europe was given 9 spots. However, after Israel won the African and Asian zone without playing any matches, because of withdrawals of other teams, a special play-off was arranged between them and a European team (Wales). So in effect, Africa and Asia together were given 0.5 spots, while Europe was given 9.5 spots.
  • 4 In 1962, Europe was given 8 automatic spots, plus 2 additional spots in the intercontinental play-offs, in effect giving them 9 spots. The two European teams played an African team and an Asian team respectively, and both European teams won. Therefore, 10 European teams played in the finals.
  • 5 In 1994, there were two rounds of intercontinental play-offs. First, an Oceanian team played a team from North and Central America and Caribbean, and the winner then played a South American team.
  • 6 From the 2006 qualifiers on, the defending champion no longer has an automatic spot secured.

Qualification competition entrants over time[edit]

The number of teams entering the qualification process and the number of matches played have been steadily growing over time. Though an African country, Egypt entered in 1938 and 1954 into the European group, therefore being zero the below indicator as for Africa in these years.

Number of teams entering qualification (including automatic qualifiers)
Continental zone 1934
Italy
(16)
1938
France
(15)
1950
Brazil
(13)
1954
Switzerland
(16)
1958
Sweden
(16)
1962
Chile
(16)
1966
England
(16)
1970
Mexico
(16)
1974
West Germany
(16)
1978
Argentina
(16)
1982
Spain
(24)
1986
Mexico
(24)
1990
Italy
(24)
1994
United States
(24)
1998
France
(32)
2002
South Korea
Japan
(32)
2006
Germany
(32)
2010
South Africa
(32)
2014
Brazil
(32)
2018
Russia
(32)
2022
Qatar
(32)
2026

(48)
Africa 3 0 0 0 11 6 21 13 24 26 29 29 26 40 38 51 51 53 52 54
Asia 2 4 3 5 7 18 22 21 27 26 29 36 42 39 43 43 46
Oceania1 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 5 7 10 10 12 11 11 11
Europe 21 26 19 29 29 30 33 31 33 32 34 33 33 39 50 51 52 53 53 54
North and Central America
and Caribbean2
4 7 3 5 6 8 10 14 14 17 15 18 16 23 30 35 34 35 35 35
South America 4 2 8 6 9 9 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 9 10 10 10 10 10 10
Total entrants 32 37 34 45 55 56 74 75 99 107 109 121 116 147 174 199 198 2054 204 210
Teams played3 27 21 19 33 46 49 51 68 90 95 103 110 103 130 168 193 194 2004 203 208
Matches played 27 22 26 57 89 92 127 172 226 252 306 308 314 497 643 777 847 853 828 663
Goals scored 141 96 121 208 341 325 393 542 620 723 797 801 735 1446 1922 2452 2464 2344 2303 1903
Average goals per match 5.22 4.36 4.65 3.65 3.83 3.53 3.09 3.15 2.74 2.87 2.60 2.60 2.34 2.91 2.99 3.16 2.91 2.75 2.81 2.87
  • 1 Because the Oceania Football Confederation has used the World Cup Qualifiers as a phase of (or as the entire) OFC Nations Cup, there is the possibility that non-FIFA countries may play in matches that double as World Cup qualifiers. In the 2006 qualifiers, New Caledonia were included in the tournament although they were not FIFA members at the date of close of entries. They are, however, included in the 12 nations listed as they joined FIFA during the course of qualification, even though they had been technically eliminated from contention a few days earlier (a similar situation occurred in the entries for 2010, with Montenegro's entry accepted prior to their admission by FIFA). By contrast, Tuvalu competed in the 2007 South Pacific Games Football tournament, which doubled as qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup. As they were not FIFA members at the time of the completion of the competition, they are not included in the 11 OFC entrants, although their results counted towards the qualification of other teams.
  • 2 From 1973 to 1989, the CONCACAF Championship and its qualifying tournament were used to determine CONCACAF's entrant in the World Cup. The confederation's champion qualified outright.
  • 3 "Teams played" is the total number of teams that played at least one qualifying match.
  • 4 This number includes Tuvalu (see note 1) and South Africa. Although South Africa qualified automatically for 2010 as hosts, they competed in the CAF qualifiers, becoming the first hosts to compete in World Cup qualifying since 1934. This is because the Confederation of African Football used its 2010 World Cup qualifiers as the qualifying phase for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament for which South Africa had attempted to qualify.

First appearance in qualification by team[edit]

Note: Only teams that played at least one match are considered for the purposes of first appearance. Teams that withdrew prior to the qualification, or that qualified to the World Cup by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals, are not considered.

World Cup Europe South America North, Central America and Caribbean Asia Africa Oceania Total
Italy
1934
 Austria
 Belgium
 Bulgaria
 Czechoslovakia[A]
 Estonia
 France
 Germany[B]
 Greece
 Hungary
 Irish Free State[C]
 Italy[D]
 Lithuania
 Luxembourg
 Netherlands
 Poland
 Portugal
 Romania
 Spain
 Sweden
  Switzerland
 Yugoslavia[E]
none  Cuba
 Haiti
 Mexico
 United States
 Palestine, British Mandate[F]  Egypt[G] none 27
France
1938
 Finland
 Latvia
 Norway
none none none none none 3
Brazil
1950
 England
 Ireland[H]
 Scotland
 Turkey[I]
 Wales
none none  Syria none none 6
Switzerland
1954
 Saar  Brazil[J]
 Chile[K]
 Paraguay[L]
none  Japan[M]
 South Korea
none none 6
Sweden
1958
 Denmark
 East Germany
 Iceland
 Soviet Union[N]
 Argentina[O]
 Bolivia[P]
 Colombia[Q]
 Peru[R]
 Uruguay[S]
 Canada
 Costa Rica[T]
 Guatemala
 Territory of Curaçao[U]
 China PR
 Indonesia[V]
 Sudan none 16
Chile
1962
 Cyprus[W]  Ecuador[X]  Dutch Guyana[Y]
 Honduras
none  Ethiopia
 Ghana
 Morocco
 Nigeria
 Tunisia
none 9
England
1966
 Albania  Venezuela[Z]  Jamaica
 Trinidad and Tobago
 North Korea none  Australia 6
Mexico
1970
none none  Bermuda
 El Salvador[AA]
none  Algeria[AB]
 Cameroon[AC]
 Libya[AD]
 Rhodesia[AE]
 Senegal[AF]
 Zambia
 New Zealand 9
West Germany
1974
 Malta none  Antigua and Barbuda
 Puerto Rico
 Hong Kong
 Iran
 Iraq
 Kuwait
 Malaysia
 South Vietnam[AG]
 Thailand
 Congo
 Dahomey[AH]
 Guinea[AI]
 Ivory Coast
 Kenya
 Lesotho
 Mauritius
 Sierra Leone
 Tanzania
 Togo
 Zaire[AJ]
none 21
Argentina
1978
none none  Barbados
 Dominican Republic
 Guyana
 Panama
 Bahrain
 Qatar
 Republic of China[AK]
 Saudi Arabia
 Singapore
 Malawi
 Mauritania
 Niger
 Uganda
 Upper Volta[AL]
none 14
Spain
1982
none none  Grenada  Macau  Gambia
 Liberia[AM]
 Madagascar[AN]
 Mozambique
 Somalia
 Fiji 8
Mexico
1986
none none none  Bangladesh
 Brunei
 Jordan
 India[AO]
   Nepal
 North Yemen[AP]
 South Yemen
 United Arab Emirates[AQ]
 Angola none 9
Italy
1990
none none none  Oman[AR]
 Pakistan
 Gabon[AS] none 3
United States
1994
 Faroe Islands
 San Marino
none  Nicaragua
 Saint Lucia
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
 Lebanon[AT]
 Sri Lanka[AU]
 Botswana
 Burundi
 Namibia
 South Africa
 Swaziland
 Solomon Islands
 Tahiti
 Vanuatu
15
France
1998
 Armenia
 Azerbaijan
 Belarus
 Bosnia and Herzegovina
 Croatia
 Georgia
 Liechtenstein[AV]
 Macedonia
 Moldova
 Slovakia
 Slovenia
 Ukraine
none  Aruba
 Belize
 Cayman Islands
 Dominica
 Saint Kitts and Nevis
 Cambodia
 Kazakhstan
 Kyrgyzstan
 Maldives[AW]
 Philippines[AX]
 Tajikistan
 Turkmenistan
 Uzbekistan
 Guinea-Bissau
 Rwanda[AY]
 Cook Islands
 Papua New Guinea
 Tonga
 Western Samoa[AZ]
31
South KoreaJapan
2002
 Andorra none  Anguilla
 Bahamas[BA]
 British Virgin Islands
 Montserrat
 Turks and Caicos Islands
 U.S. Virgin Islands
 Guam
 Laos
 Mongolia
 Palestine
 Cape Verde
 Central African Republic[BB]
 Chad
 Djibouti
 Equatorial Guinea
 Eritrea
 Mali[BC]
 São Tomé and Príncipe[BD]
 Seychelles
 American Samoa 21
Germany
2006
none none none  Afghanistan none  New Caledonia 2
South Africa
2010
 Montenegro none none  Myanmar[BE]
 Timor-Leste
 Comoros  Tuvalu[BF] 5
Brazil
2014
none none none none none none 0
Russia
2018
 Gibraltar
 Kosovo
none none  Bhutan[BG]  South Sudan none 4
Total 215[BH]
Notes
  1. ^ The Czechoslovakia team was officially renamed as the  Representation of Czechs and Slovaks during the 1994 qualification, and was then succeeded by the  Czech Republic (first appearance: 1998).
  2. ^ Germany was later succeeded by  West Germany (first appearance: 1954), which in turn was succeeded by the reunified  Germany (first appearance: 1994).
  3. ^ The Irish Free State was later succeeded by  Ireland (first appearance: 1950), which later became officially known as the  Republic of Ireland (first appearance: 1954).
  4. ^ Italy had to qualify for the tournament despite being the host.
  5. ^ The  Kingdom of Yugoslavia was later succeeded by the  Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (first appearance: 1950), which was then succeeded by the  Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (first appearance: 1998), which was later renamed as  Serbia and Montenegro (first appearance: 2006), which in turn was succeeded by  Serbia (first appearance: 2010).
  6. ^ Mandatory Palestine was later succeeded by  Israel (first appearance: 1950).
  7. ^ Egypt was later succeeded by the  United Arab Republic, a political union between Egypt and Syria, which entered the 1962 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches. Later, Egypt entered the 1966 qualification independently but still under the name "United Arab Republic", but withdrew yet again before playing any matches. The team's first appearance after it changed its name back to  Egypt came in 1974.
  8. ^ Ireland was later succeeded by  Northern Ireland (first appearance: 1954).
  9. ^ Turkey entered the 1934 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  10. ^ Brazil entered the 1934 and 1938 qualifications, but on both occasions qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals. It also qualified automatically for the 1950 World Cup as host.
  11. ^ Chile entered the 1934 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches. It also entered the 1950 qualification, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals.
  12. ^ Paraguay entered the 1950 qualification, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals.
  13. ^ Japan entered the 1938 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  14. ^ The Soviet Union was later succeeded by  Russia (first appearance: 1994).
  15. ^ Argentina entered the 1934 qualification, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals. It also entered the 1938 and 1950 qualifications, but on both occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  16. ^ Bolivia entered the 1950 qualification, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals.
  17. ^ Colombia entered the 1938 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  18. ^ Peru entered the 1934, 1950 and 1954 qualifications, but on all three occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  19. ^ Uruguay entered the 1950 qualification, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals. It also qualified automatically for the 1954 World Cup as defending champion.
  20. ^ Costa Rica entered the 1938 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  21. ^ The  Territory of Curaçao (six islands) was later succeeded by the  Netherlands Antilles (first appearance: 1962), which in turn was succeeded by  Curaçao (one island; first appearance: 2014).
  22. ^ Indonesia entered the 1938 qualification as  Dutch East Indies, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals. It also entered the 1950 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  23. ^ Cyprus entered the 1958 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  24. ^ Ecuador entered the 1950 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  25. ^ Dutch Guyana entered the 1938 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches. It was later succeeded by  Suriname (first appearance: 1978).
  26. ^ Venezuela entered the 1958 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  27. ^ El Salvador entered the 1938 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  28. ^ Algeria entered the 1966 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  29. ^ Cameroon entered the 1966 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  30. ^ Libya entered the 1966 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  31. ^ Rhodesia was later succeeded by  Zimbabwe (first appearance: 1982).
  32. ^ Senegal entered the 1966 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  33. ^ South Vietnam was later succeeded by  Vietnam (first appearance: 1994).
  34. ^ Dahomey was later renamed as  Benin (first appearance: 1986).
  35. ^ Guinea entered the 1966 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  36. ^ Zaire was renamed as  DR Congo during the 1998 qualification.
  37. ^ The Republic of China entered the 1954 and 1958 qualifications, but on both occasions withdrew before playing any matches. It later became officially known as  Chinese Taipei (first appearance: 1982).
  38. ^ Upper Volta was later renamed as  Burkina Faso (first appearance: 1990).
  39. ^ Liberia entered the 1966 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  40. ^ Madagascar entered the 1974 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  41. ^ India entered the 1950 qualification, but qualified by walkover due to other teams' withdrawals, and subsequently withdrew from participation in the finals. It also entered the 1974 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  42. ^ North Yemen was later succeeded by  Yemen (first appearance: 1994).
  43. ^ The United Arab Emirates entered the 1978 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  44. ^ Oman entered the 1986 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  45. ^ Gabon entered the 1966 and 1974 qualifications, but on both occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  46. ^ Lebanon entered but was disqualified during the 1986 qualification, and the team's matches from that campaign were annulled.
  47. ^ Sri Lanka entered the 1974 and 1978 qualifications, but on both occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  48. ^ Liechtenstein entered the 1994 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  49. ^ The Maldives entered the 1990 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  50. ^ The Philippines entered the 1950 and 1974 qualifications, but on both occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  51. ^ Rwanda entered the 1990 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  52. ^ Western Samoa entered the 1994 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches. It was later renamed as  Samoa (first appearance: 2002).
  53. ^ The Bahamas entered the 1998 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  54. ^ The Central African Republic entered the 1978 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches. It also entered the 1982 qualification, but was disqualified before playing any matches.
  55. ^ Mali entered the 1966, 1994 and 1998 qualifications, but on all three occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  56. ^ São Tomé and Príncipe entered the 1994 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  57. ^ Myanmar entered the 1950 (as  Burma), 1994 and 2002 qualifications, but on all three occasions withdrew before playing any matches.
  58. ^ Tuvalu was not a member of FIFA at the time of qualification and had not entered the FIFA World Cup, although matches in the Football tournament of the South Pacific Games did count towards the qualification tournament for the OFC, and Tuvalu's results did count in determining advancement from this stage.
  59. ^ Bhutan entered the 2010 qualification, but withdrew before playing any matches.
  60. ^ Confederation subtotals are not given because a few teams have appeared in World Cup qualifiers in multiple confederations.

National teams results in World Cup preliminary competition (1934–2018)[edit]

Legend
Team has won the World Cup
Team has qualified for the main tournament through a qualifying process
Team has qualified for the main tournament only by walkover (Cuba and Indonesia)
Team has qualified for the main tournament by walkover but hasn't participated there because it withdrew (India)
Team hasn't qualified for the main tournament but is assured of an automatic spot in 2022 as host (Qatar)
Team hasn't qualified for the main tournament
Defunct team that has qualified for the main tournament (East Germany)
Defunct team that never qualified for the main tournament (Saar and South Yemen)
Team is not a member of FIFA and is not eligible for the main tournament (Tuvalu)

Teams in bold are still participating in the 2018 qualification. The table is updated to matches played in September 2017.

Team App's[n 1] Overall qualification record Points[n 2] Confederation
Pld W D L GF GA GD Total Avg
 Mexico 16 173 112 37 24 431 122 +309 373 2.156 CONCACAF
 Costa Rica 16 170 85 42 43 293 173 +120 297 1.747 CONCACAF
 South Korea 14 135 82 36 17 264 86 +178 282 2.089 AFC
 Australia 14 137 80 34 23 356 110 +246 274 2.000 AFC
 Iran 10 128 78 34 16 267 81 +186 268 2.094 AFC
 Netherlands 18 123 80 24 19 291 92 +199 264 2.146 UEFA
 United States 18 152 76 36 40 261 179 +82 264 1.737 CONCACAF
 Spain 18 115 79 25 11 272 76 +196 262 2.278 UEFA
 Argentina 13 134 74 35 25 232 126 +106 257 1.918 CONMEBOL
 Portugal 20 137 74 33 30 258 139 +119 255 1.861 UEFA
 Sweden 19 127 78 20 29 258 119 +139 254 2.000 UEFA
 Serbia (2010—)
 Serbia and Montenegro (2006)
 FR Yugoslavia (1998–2002)
 SFR Yugoslavia (1950–1990)
 Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1934–1938)
19 126 74 31 21 266 111 +155 253 2.008 UEFA
 Belgium 19 131 75 25 31 269 138 +131 250 1.908 UEFA
 Czech Republic (1998—)
 Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (1994)
 Czechoslovakia (1934–1994)
19 136 73 29 34 259 115 +144 248 1.824 UEFA
 England 16 110 74 25 11 273 67 +206 247 2.245 UEFA
 Uruguay 16 152 68 41 43 214 162 +52 245 1.612 CONMEBOL
 Italy 16 105 73 24 8 219 67 +152 243 2.314 UEFA
 Russia (1994—)
 Soviet Union (1958–1990)
15 115 73 23 19 227 75 +152 242 2.104 UEFA
 Honduras 14 146 68 38 40 250 167 +83 242 1.658 CONCACAF
 Germany (1994—)
 West Germany (1954–1990)
 Germany (1934–1938)
14 92 72 18 2 284 68 +216 234 2.543 UEFA
 Saudi Arabia 11 118 68 28 22 232 93 +139 232 1.966 AFC
 Brazil 12 108 67 29 12 237 70 +167 230 2.130 CONMEBOL
 Japan 14 120 68 26 26 247 85 +162 230 1.917 AFC
 Paraguay 17 152 65 30 57 199 187 +12 225 1.480 CONMEBOL
 Romania 17 126 66 25 35 219 132 +87 223 1.770 UEFA
  Switzerland 19 128 62 32 34 199 142 +57 218 1.703 UEFA
 El Salvador 13 140 63 28 49 233 168 +65 217 1.550 CONCACAF
 Colombia 16 150 57 45 48 178 156 +22 216 1.440 CONMEBOL
 China PR 11 108 66 16 26 230 74 +156 214 1.981 AFC
 France 17 109 63 23 23 213 87 +126 212 1.945 UEFA
 Scotland 18 123 61 27 35 189 134 +55 210 1.707 UEFA
 Chile 15 144 60 29 55 215 191 +24 209 1.451 CONMEBOL
 Bulgaria 19 127 60 26 41 208 175 +33 206 1.622 UEFA
 Republic of Ireland (1954—)
 Ireland (1950)
 Irish Free State (1934–1938)
20 137 54 42 41 195 164 +31 204 1.489 UEFA
 Nigeria 14 102 57 29 16 174 77 +97 200 1.961 CAF
 Austria 18 121 57 28 36 208 134 +74 199 1.645 UEFA
 Hungary 18 120 57 26 37 213 158 +55 197 1.642 UEFA
 Denmark 15 118 56 28 34 205 139 +66 196 1.661 UEFA
 Tunisia 14 102 56 27 19 176 83 +93 195 1.912 CAF
 Poland 18 115 58 21 36 218 140 +78 195 1.696 UEFA
 Trinidad and Tobago 14 135 54 27 54 198 179 +19 189 1.400 CONCACAF
 Morocco 14 109 49 38 22 145 80 +65 185 1.697 CAF
 Greece 19 124 52 28 44 152 166 −14 184 1.484 UEFA
 Guatemala 15 122 49 31 42 194 150 +44 178 1.459 CONCACAF
 Canada 14 117 48 34 35 161 136 +25 178 1.521 CONCACAF
 New Zealand 13 94 53 17 24 221 97 +124 176 1.872 OFC
 Ecuador 15 141 47 33 61 167 197 −30 174 1.234 CONMEBOL
 Qatar 11 112 50 22 40 181 121 +60 172 1.536 AFC
 Cameroon 13 85 50 21 14 140 64 +76 171 2.012 CAF
 Egypt 14 91 51 18 22 162 87 +75 171 1.879 CAF
 Iraq 11 101 48 24 29 201 103 +98 168 1.663 AFC
 Uzbekistan 6 94 49 19 26 177 95 +82 166 1.766 AFC
 Turkey 17 126 47 23 56 174 182 −8 164 1.302 UEFA
 Northern Ireland (1954—)
 Ireland (1950)
18 130 43 35 52 148 156 −8 164 1.262 UEFA
 Peru 16 145 42 34 69 161 210 −49 160 1.103 CONMEBOL
 Kuwait 12 93 48 14 31 160 92 +68 158 1.699 AFC
 Norway 18 124 42 30 52 161 178 −17 156 1.258 UEFA
 Zambia 13 94 45 19 30 143 85 +58 154 1.638 CAF
 Israel (1950—)
 Palestine, British Mandate (1934–1938)
20 120 39 34 47 165 177 −12 151 1.258 UEFA
 Ivory Coast 11 76 41 24 11 144 65 +79 147 1.934 CAF
 United Arab Emirates 9 97 42 20 35 161 111 +50 146 1.505 AFC
 Bolivia 16 148 39 28 81 175 280 −105 145 0.980 CONMEBOL
 Ghana 13 81 40 20 21 131 65 +66 140 1.728 CAF
 Algeria 13 87 39 23 25 123 89 +34 140 1.609 CAF
 Jamaica 11 104 37 27 40 115 132 −17 138 1.327 CONCACAF
 North Korea 10 83 39 19 25 116 77 +39 136 1.639 AFC
 Haiti 14 90 39 17 34 152 120 +32 134 1.489 CONCACAF
 Wales 18 118 36 26 56 150 169 −19 134 1.136 UEFA
 Syria 14 82 36 19 27 172 94 +78 127 1.549 AFC
 Ukraine 6 68 34 22 12 106 50 +56 124 1.824 UEFA
 DR Congo (1998—)
 Zaire (1974–1998)
10 74 34 17 23 123 82 +41 119 1.608 CAF
 Croatia 6 58 34 16 8 101 45 +56 118 2.034 UEFA
 Bahrain 10 88 31 25 32 105 94 +11 118 1.341 AFC
 Finland 19 127 32 21 74 131 284 −153 117 0.921 UEFA
 Guinea 12 73 35 10 28 112 90 +22 115 1.575 CAF
 Slovakia 6 62 31 14 17 107 63 +44 107 1.726 UEFA
 Oman 8 70 29 19 22 115 70 +45 106 1.514 AFC
 Panama 11 92 26 22 44 102 152 −50 100 1.087 CONCACAF
 Jordan 9 70 28 14 28 105 92 +13 98 1.400 AFC
 Iceland 13 104 26 19 59 111 215 −104 97 0.933 UEFA
 Venezuela 13 138 24 24 90 119 314 −195 96 0.696 CONMEBOL
 Angola 9 61 24 22 15 79 57 +22 94 1.541 CAF
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 6 56 27 10 19 107 64 +43 91 1.625 UEFA
 Senegal 12 60 23 22 15 84 55 +29 91 1.517 CAF
 Thailand 12 89 24 18 47 116 156 −40 90 1.011 AFC
 South Africa 7 47 27 8 12 62 40 +22 89 1.894 CAF
 Slovenia 6 60 25 14 21 79 65 +14 89 1.483 UEFA
 Burkina Faso (1990—)
 Upper Volta (1978)
8 58 25 10 23 82 75 +7 85 1.466 CAF
 Kenya 12 68 23 16 29 77 91 −14 85 1.250 CAF
 Hong Kong 12 73 23 14 36 91 128 −37 83 1.137 AFC
 Cuba 12 68 20 20 28 85 102 −17 80 1.176 CONCACAF
 Zimbabwe (1982—)
 Rhodesia (1970)
10 61 21 16 24 62 75 −13 79 1.295 CAF
 Togo 10 63 21 14 28 68 86 −18 77 1.222 CAF
 Libya 10 54 21 12 21 62 60 +2 75 1.389 CAF
 Congo 9 60 21 12 27 68 80 −12 75 1.250 CAF
 East Germany 9 47 22 8 17 87 65 +22 74 1.574 defunct
 Gabon 8 55 21 10 24 57 62 −5 73 1.327 CAF
 Indonesia 12 71 19 16 36 87 143 −56 73 1.028 AFC
 Solomon Islands 7 54 21 9 24 112 113 −1 72 1.333 OFC
 Lebanon 7 56 19 14 23 87 77 +10 71 1.268 AFC
 Suriname (1978—)
 Dutch Guyana (1962–1974)
14 65 19 14 32 91 111 −20 71 1.092 CONCACAF
 Fiji 9 53 20 10 23 111 98 +13 70 1.321 OFC
 Latvia 8 73 18 14 41 78 130 −52 68 0.932 UEFA
 Albania 12 102 18 14 70 72 184 −112 68 0.667 UEFA
 Singapore 11 68 19 10 39 74 121 −47 67 0.985 AFC
 Lithuania 9 71 17 15 39 58 109 −51 66 0.930 UEFA
 New Caledonia 4 35 18 8 9 87 36 +51 62 1.771 OFC
 Malaysia 12 59 16 14 29 69 111 −42 62 1.051 AFC
 Sudan 12 64 15 17 32 56 101 −45 62 0.969 CAF
 Tahiti 7 43 17 8 18 66 81 −15 59 1.372 OFC
 Malawi 10 58 14 16 28 56 83 −27 58 1.000 CAF
 Cyprus 15 112 15 13 84 86 293 −207 58 0.518 UEFA
 Liberia 9 58 15 12 31 39 84 −45 57 0.983 CAF
 Curaçao (2014—)
 Netherlands Antilles (1962–2010)
 Territory of Curaçao (1958)
16 60 13 18 29 53 116 −63 57 0.950 CONCACAF
 Turkmenistan 6 40 17 5 18 64 59 +5 56 1.400 AFC
 Estonia 9 74 15 11 48 58 164 −106 56 0.757 UEFA
 Bermuda 7 36 15 9 12 76 46 +30 54 1.500 CONCACAF
 Uganda 9 40 15 7 18 40 56 −16 52 1.300 CAF
 Mali 5 38 14 9 15 50 52 −2 51 1.342 CAF
 Belarus 6 56 13 12 31 59 92 −33 51 0.911 UEFA
 Macedonia 6 58 13 11 34 66 101 −35 50 0.862 UEFA
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 7 58 14 8 36 77 170 −93 50 0.862 CONCACAF
 Yemen (1994—)
 North Yemen (1986–1990)
9 50 12 11 27 52 80 −28 47 0.940 AFC
 Tajikistan 6 36 13 7 16 63 55 +8 46 1.278 AFC
 Benin (1986—)
 Dahomey (1974)
8 44 13 7 24 46 89 −43 46 1.045 CAF
 Kazakhstan 6 58 12 10 36 69 124 −55 46 0.793 UEFA
 Madagascar 9 36 12 8 16 45 51 −6 44 1.222 CAF
 Antigua and Barbuda 10 42 13 5 24 66 93 −27 44 1.048 CONCACAF
 Georgia 6 54 9 16 29 51 87 −36 43 0.796 UEFA
 Armenia 6 60 10 13 37 50 115 −65 43 0.717 UEFA
 Cape Verde 5 32 13 3 16 34 40 −6 42 1.312 CAF
 Sierra Leone 10 45 11 9 25 39 69 −30 42 0.933 CAF
 Saint Kitts and Nevis 6 30 11 8 11 64 54 +10 41 1.367 CONCACAF
 India 8 43 10 11 22 43 87 −44 41 0.953 AFC
 Montenegro 3 28 10 10 8 45 38 +7 40 1.429 UEFA
 Kyrgyzstan 6 31 12 4 15 38 49 −11 40 1.290 AFC
 Ethiopia 11 41 10 10 21 47 65 −18 40 0.976 CAF
 Vanuatu 7 37 12 3 22 76 89 −13 39 1.054 OFC
 Vietnam (1994—)
 South Vietnam (1974)
8 41 11 3 27 43 81 −38 36 0.878 AFC
 Namibia 7 42 9 9 24 37 82 −45 36 0.857 CAF
 Dominican Republic 8 29 10 5 14 42 50 −8 35 1.207 CONCACAF
 Botswana 6 34 10 5 19 33 52 −19 35 1.029 CAF
 Azerbaijan 6 56 7 14 35 27 97 −70 35 0.625 UEFA
 Barbados 8 37 10 4 23 35 73 −38 34 0.919 CONCACAF
 Mozambique 8 34 8 8 18 30 50 −20 32 0.941 CAF
 Niger 7 30 9 5 16 27 48 −21 32 1.067 CAF
 Bangladesh 9 48 9 5 34 33 122 −89 32 0.667 AFC
 Palestine 5 26 8 7 11 46 37 +9 31 1.192 AFC
 Tanzania 9 33 7 10 16 35 50 −15 31 0.939 CAF
 Samoa (2002—)
 Western Samoa (1998)
6 26 9 1 16 37 88 −51 28 1.077 OFC
 Papua New Guinea 4 22 7 6 9 43 36 +7 27 1.227 OFC
 Belize 6 26 7 6 13 32 54 −22 27 1.038 CONCACAF
 Rwanda 6 36 6 9 21 29 54 −25 27 0.750 CAF
 Guyana 10 34 7 6 21 36 81 −45 27 0.794 CONCACAF
 Moldova 6 56 5 12 39 35 112 −77 27 0.482 UEFA
 Faroe Islands 7 68 7 6 55 34 183 −149 27 0.397 UEFA
 Grenada 7 25 7 3 15 49 54 −5 24 0.960 CONCACAF
 Burundi 6 20 7 3 10 17 26 −9 24 1.200 CAF
 Gambia 8 24 6 6 12 20 36 −16 24 1.000 CAF
 Luxembourg 20 132 5 9 118 68 424 −356 24 0.182 UEFA
 Maldives 6 32 7 2 23 36 120 −84 23 0.719 AFC
 Nicaragua 7 22 7 1 14 25 44 −19 22 1.000 CONCACAF
 Saint Lucia 7 24 7 1 16 32 62 −30 22 0.917 CONCACAF
 Tonga 6 22 7 1 14 23 82 −59 22 1.000 OFC
 Chinese Taipei (1982—)
 Republic of China (1978)
11 58 6 4 48 35 200 −165 22 0.379 AFC
 Puerto Rico 9 25 5 6 14 22 55 −33 21 0.840 CONCACAF
 Chad 5 16 6 1 9 15 23 −8 19 1.187 CAF
 Swaziland 7 19 4 4 11 15 39 −24 16 0.842 CAF
   Nepal 7 30 4 4 22 23 100 −77 16 0.533 AFC
 Bahamas 5 14 4 3 7 20 43 −23 15 1.071 CONCACAF
 Philippines 4 21 4 3 14 16 57 −41 15 0.714 AFC
 Sri Lanka 7 31 3 6 22 21 75 −54 15 0.484 AFC
 Malta 12 100 2 9 89 32 296 −264 15 0.150 UEFA
 Equatorial Guinea 5 20 4 2 14 17 36 −19 14 0.700 CAF
 Lesotho 7 24 2 8 14 14 51 −37 14 0.583 CAF
 Aruba 6 16 4 1 11 23 42 −19 13 0.812 CONCACAF
 Dominica 6 20 3 4 13 15 54 −39 13 0.650 CONCACAF
 Laos 4 26 3 3 20 23 124 −101 12 0.462 AFC
 Liechtenstein 6 58 2 6 50 23 180 −157 12 0.207 UEFA
 Myanmar 3 14 3 2 9 11 38 −27 11 0.786 AFC
 Macau 9 35 3 2 30 15 165 −150 11 0.314 AFC
 Afghanistan 4 14 3 1 10 10 45 −35 10 0.714 AFC
 Cook Islands 6 20 3 1 16 16 63 −47 10 0.500 OFC
 American Samoa 5 18 3 1 14 11 136 −125 10 0.556 OFC
 Mauritania 6 16 2 3 11 13 31 −18 9 0.562 CAF
 U.S. Virgin Islands 5 15 3 0 12 8 80 −72 9 0.600 CONCACAF
 Cambodia 5 26 2 3 21 16 90 −74 9 0.346 AFC
 Andorra 5 50 2 3 45 14 156 −142 9 0.180 UEFA
 Timor-Leste 3 14 2 2 10 11 55 −44 8 0.571 AFC
 Guinea-Bissau 6 12 1 4 7 8 19 −11 7 0.583 CAF
 São Tomé and Príncipe 4 8 2 1 5 4 22 −18 7 0.875 CAF
 Guam 2 10 2 1 7 3 51 −48 7 0.700 AFC
 Mauritius 7 18 1 3 14 14 49 −35 6 0.333 CAF
 Bhutan 1 10 2 0 8 8 53 −45 6 0.600 AFC
 Cayman Islands 6 16 0 5 11 6 35 −29 5 0.313 CONCACAF
 Saar 1 4 1 1 2 4 8 −4 4 1.000 defunct
 Central African Republic 3 10 1 1 8 8 21 −13 4 0.400 CAF
 Mongolia 5 14 1 1 12 6 51 −45 4 0.286 AFC
 Djibouti 4 13 1 1 11 6 56 −50 4 0.308 CAF
 Pakistan 8 30 0 4 26 12 118 −106 4 0.133 AFC
 Eritrea 4 8 0 3 5 3 16 −13 3 0.375 CAF
 Comoros 3 8 0 3 5 4 18 −14 3 0.375 CAF
 Somalia 6 11 0 3 8 1 26 −25 3 0.273 CAF
 British Virgin Islands 5 10 0 3 7 7 34 −27 3 0.300 CONCACAF
 Turks and Caicos Islands 5 10 1 0 9 6 46 −40 3 0.300 CONCACAF
 Brunei 3 14 1 0 13 3 59 −56 3 0.214 AFC
 Seychelles 5 14 0 2 12 6 36 −30 2 0.143 CAF
 San Marino 7 64 0 2 62 11 297 −286 2 0.031 UEFA
 South Yemen 1 2 0 1 1 4 7 −3 1 0.500 defunct
 South Sudan 1 2 0 1 1 1 5 −4 1 0.500 CAF
 Kosovo 1 8 0 1 7 3 20 −17 1 0.125 UEFA
 Tuvalu 1 4 0 1 3 2 22 −20 1 0.250 OFC
 Montserrat 5 9 0 1 8 8 45 −37 1 0.111 CONCACAF
 Anguilla 5 10 0 1 9 2 41 −39 1 0.100 CONCACAF
 Gibraltar 1 8 0 0 8 3 37 −34 0 0.000 UEFA
Footnotes
  1. ^ Only qualifying campaigns are counted where the team played at least one match that was not annulled.
  2. ^ The three points for a win system is used. Note that these columns do not represent any official rankings.

Top scorers in preliminary competition (1934–2018)[edit]

Players in bold are still active.

# Nation Player Goals Games
played
Goal
ratio
Qualification tournaments
1 Guatemala Carlos Ruiz 39 47 0.75 2002 (8 goals), 2006 (10), 2010 (6), 2014 (6), 2018 (9)
2 Iran Ali Daei 35 50 0.70 1994 (7 goals), 1998 (9), 2002 (10), 2006 (9)
3 Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo 29 35 0.83 2006 (7 goals), 2014 (8), 2018 (14)
4 Iran Karim Bagheri 28 29 0.97 1998 (19 goals), 2002 (8), 2010 (1)
5 Japan Kazu Miura 27 25 1.08 1994 (13 goals), 1998 (14)
6 Ukraine Andriy Shevchenko 26 40 0.65 1998 (4 goals), 2002 (10), 2006 (6), 2010 (6)
7 Honduras Carlos Pavón 25 37 0.68 1998 (2 goals), 2002 (15), 2006 (1), 2010 (7)
8 Mexico Jared Borgetti 23 24 0.96 2002 (6 goals), 2006 (14), 2010 (3)
9 Australia Tim Cahill 23 x x 2006 (7 goals), 2010 (4), 2014 (3), 2018 (9)
10 Bosnia and Herzegovina Edin Džeko 22 25 0.86 2010 (9 goals), 2014 (10), 2018 (3)
11 Costa Rica Paulo Wanchope 21 37 0.57 1998 (6 goals), 2002 (7), 2006 (8)
12 Australia Archie Thompson 20 15 1.33 2002 (16 goals), 2006 (2), 2014 (2)
13 Trinidad and Tobago Stern John 20 49 0.41 1998 (3 goals), 2002 (3), 2006 (12), 2010 (2)
14 New Zealand Vaughan Coveny 19 19 1.00 1998 (4 goals), 2002 (9), 2006 (6)
15 Haiti Emmanuel Sanon 19 20 0.95 1974 (11 goals), 1978 (8)
16 Portugal Pauleta 19 24 0.79 2002 (8 goals), 2006 (11)
17 Sweden Zlatan Ibrahimović 19 29 0.66 2002 (1 goal), 2006 (8), 2010 (2), 2014 (8)
18 Argentina Hernán Crespo 19 33 0.58 1998 (3 goals), 2002 (9), 2006 (7)
19 Uruguay Luis Suárez 19 44 0.43 2010 (5 goals), 2014 (11), 2018 (3)
20 Ivory Coast Didier Drogba 18 19 0.95 2006 (9 goals), 2010 (6), 2014 (3)
21 Burkina Faso Moumouni Dagano 18 24 0.60 2002 (1 goal), 2006 (5), 2010 (12)
22 Cameroon Samuel Eto'o 18 29 0.62 2002 (3 goals), 2006 (4), 2010 (9), 2014 (2)
23 El Salvador Raúl Díaz Arce 18 29 0.62 1994 (2 goals), 1998 (9), 2002 (7)
24 Chile Marcelo Salas 18 32 0.56 1998 (11 goals), 2002 (4), 2006 (1), 2010 (2)
25 Republic of Ireland Robbie Keane 18 37 0.49 2002 (2 goals), 2006 (4), 2010 (6), 2014 (6)
26 United States Clint Dempsey 18 38 0.47 2010 (5 goals), 2014 (8), 2018 (5)
27 Argentina Lionel Messi 18 41 0.44 2010 (4 goals), 2014 (10), 2018 (4)
28 Chile Iván Zamorano 17 11 1.54 1990 (1 goal), 1998 (12), 2002 (4)
29 Bulgaria Dimitar Berbatov 17 12 1.42 2002 (6 goals), 2006 (8), 2010 (5)
30 Switzerland Alexander Frei 17 14 1.21 2002 (5 goals), 2006 (7), 2010 (5)
31 Belize Deon McCaulay 17 16 1.06 2010 (2 goals), 2014 (11), 2018 (4)
32 Costa Rica Alvaro Saborio 17 41 0.41 2006 (3 goals), 2010 (6), 2014 (8)
33 Trinidad and Tobago Steve David 17 x x 1974 (13 goals), 1978 (4)

(update of FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers in progress, last update: 13 June 2017)

First games and goalscorers in preliminary competition (1934–2018)[edit]

World Cup First game First goal
Italy
1934
11 June 1933; Sweden  6–2  Estonia 11 June 1933; Knut Kroon for  Sweden vs.  Estonia
France
1938
16 June 1937; Sweden  4–0  Finland 16 June 1937; Lennart Bunke for  Sweden vs.  Finland
Brazil
1950
2 June 1949; Sweden  3–1  Republic of Ireland 2 June 1949; Davy Walsh for  Republic of Ireland vs.  Sweden
Switzerland
1954
9 May 1953; Yugoslavia  1–0  Greece 9 May 1953; Frane Matošić for  Yugoslavia vs.  Greece
Sweden
1958
30 September 1956; Austria  7–0  Luxembourg 30 September 1956; Gerhard Hanappi for  Austria vs.  Luxembourg
Chile
1962
21 August 1960; Costa Rica  3–2  Guatemala 21 August 1960; unknown
England
1966
24 May 1964; Netherlands  2–0  Albania 24 May 1964; Daan Schrijvers for  Netherlands vs.  Albania
Mexico
1970
19 May 1968; Austria  7–1  Cyprus 19 May 1968; Erich Hof for  Austria vs.  Cyprus
West Germany
1974
14 November 1971; Malta  0–2  Hungary 14 November 1971; Ferenc Bene for  Hungary vs.  Malta
Argentina
1978
4 April 1976; Panama  3–2  Costa Rica 4 April 1976; Javier Jiménez for  Costa Rica vs.  Panama
Spain
1982
26 March 1980; Israel  0–0  Northern Ireland
26 March 1980; Cyprus  2–3  Republic of Ireland
26 March 1980; Paul McGee for  Republic of Ireland vs.  Cyprus
Mexico
1986
2 May 1984; Cyprus  1–2  Austria 2 May 1984; Martin Gisinger for  Austria vs.  Cyprus
Italy
1990
17 April 1988; Guyana  0–4  Trinidad and Tobago 17 April 1988; Paul Elliot-Allen for  Trinidad and Tobago vs.  Guyana
United States
1994
21 March 1992; Dominican Republic  0–4  Puerto Rico 21 March 1992; Marcos Lugris for  Puerto Rico vs.  Dominican Republic
France
1998
10 March 1996; Dominica  3–3  Antigua and Barbuda 10 March 1996; Anthony Dominique for  Dominica vs.  Antigua and Barbuda
South KoreaJapan
2002
4 March 2000; Trinidad and Tobago  5–0  Netherlands Antilles
4 March 2000; Honduras  3–0  Nicaragua
4 March 2000; Marvin Andrews for  Trinidad and Tobago vs.  Netherlands Antilles
Germany
2006
6 September 2003; Ecuador  2–0  Venezuela 6 September 2003; Giovanny Espinoza for  Ecuador vs.  Venezuela
South Africa
2010
25 August 2007; Tahiti  0–1  New Caledonia 25 August 2007; Pierre Wajoka for  New Caledonia vs.  Tahiti
Brazil
2014
15 June 2011; Montserrat  2–5  Belize 15 June 2011; Deon McCauley for  Belize vs.  Montserrat
Russia
2018
12 March 2015; Timor-Leste  4–1  Mongolia 12 March 2015; Chiquito do Carmo for  Timor-Leste vs.  Mongolia

Current format[edit]

Currently, 32 places are available in the final tournament. One of them is reserved for the host nation, but if two or more nations host the competition jointly, each is awarded a place. From 1934 to 2002, one berth was reserved for the winners of the previous World Cup. In November 2001, FIFA announced that the defending champion would no longer get automatic entry to the subsequent tournament, starting with the 2006 finals. This decision was made to address the issue of the returning champions being at a disadvantage to their fellow competitors due to having not played a competitive match in the previous two years.[3] The problem was amply demonstrated at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, as returning champions France tumbled out in the first round, finishing bottom of their group without scoring a single goal. 2002 winner Brazil qualified for 2006 at the top of their qualifiers group. However, Italy, defending champions from 2006, finished bottom of their group in 2010, despite playing in the qualifying matches. At Brazil 2014, 2010 champions Spain finished third in their group and failed to advance to the Round of 16, despite having qualified as first in their group.

FIFA decides beforehand the number of spots awarded to each of the continental zones. For the 2018 World Cup, the following numbers are being used:[4]

  • UEFA (Europe) – 13 berths, plus the host Russia
  • CAF (Africa) – 5 berths
  • AFC (Asia) – 4 berths
  • CONMEBOL (South America) – 4 berths
  • CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean) – 3 berths
  • 2 berths for the winners of intercontinental play-offs between the best team from the OFC (Oceania), as well as additional teams from the AFC, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. The pairings for these play-offs will be determined by an open draw.

The number of berths allocated per continent is widely debated, with the main point of contention being the extent to which berths should be allocated to regions based on sheer population vs. talent. A historically weaker continent, Africa has called for more places, as they are allocated only five in comparison to Europe's 13.[5] In early October 2016, it was announced that the World Cup would have featured 40 teams starting with the 2026 tournament,[6] then FIFA President Gianni Infantino stated his support for a 48-team World Cup,[7] mainly to address African concerns. On 10 January 2017, the FIFA Council voted unanimously to expand the World Cup to a 48 team tournament that will open with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, with two teams progressing from each group to a knockout tournament starting with a round of 32.[8] Other than a play-off tournament, for the last two World Cup berths, that consists of one team from each confederation (except for UEFA) and one additional team from the confederation of the host country,[9] the new format for the qualifying process has yet to be confirmed.

These numbers vary slightly between tournaments (see above).

Qualification in all zones ends at approximately the same time, in September–November of the year preceding the finals.

The formats of the qualification tournaments differ between confederations and over time. The systems being used in 2018 are outlined below.

Africa[edit]

The CAF qualification process began with two preliminary rounds (to narrow the field of 53 entrants to 20 teams) in October 2015. Zimbabwe were disqualified and therefore ineligible.

The group stage consisted of 5 groups of 4, with the group winners advancing to the World Cup finals.

Asia[edit]

Bhutan and Guam entered the AFC qualification process, while Indonesia were suspended and therefore ineligible.

Qualifying was altered significantly from the 2014 method, with changes to the structure of the preliminary rounds – which were held before the main draw. One home-and-away preliminary round reduced the 12 entrants to 6, followed by a first group stage with the 6 first round winners joining the top sides and 4 best runners-up from 5 groups of 5 advancing to a final group stage. The winners and runners-up of the two final groups of 5 advanced to the World Cup finals with the two third-placed sides playing off in the fourth round for the right to play in an inter-confederation play-off for a final World Cup spot. The first two rounds also acted as the qualifiers for the expanded 2019 AFC Asian Cup.[10]

A total of 24 teams eliminated from World Cup qualification in the second round compete in the third round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification (which is separate from the third round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification), where they are divided into six groups of four teams and compete for the remaining slots of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The 24 teams consist of the 16 highest ranked teams eliminated in the second round, and the eight teams that advance from the play-off round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification which are contested by the remaining 12 teams eliminated in the second round.[11]

Europe[edit]

The European qualification is unchanged from the 2010 system. The 54 national teams were divided into nine groups of six teams, with the group winners qualifying directly to the finals, and the best eight runners-up playing home-and-away ties for the remaining four places.[12]

With the admission of Gibraltar and Kosovo as FIFA members in May 2016, both national teams made their debuts in World Cup qualifying.[13] With two groups of only five teams in the first round, Kosovo was assigned to group I as it was decided that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia should not play against Kosovo for security reasons, and Gibraltar was then added to group H.[14][15]

North and Central America and Caribbean[edit]

The 2018 CONCACAF qualification process has changed significantly from the 2014 qualification cycle. The first three rounds have teams play home-and-away over two legs. A first preliminary round involved the 14 lowest ranked teams and the seven winners advanced to the second round. The 13 higher ranked sides received byes in the second round and were joined by the seven first round winners; the ten winners advanced to the third round. Two higher ranked teams received byes in the third round and were joined by ten second round winners; the six winners advanced to the preliminary group stage.

As in 2014, the remaining 12 teams play in 3 semifinal groups of 4 teams with the top two in each group advancing to a final six-team group.

The final round – often referred to as the "hexagonal" because there are six teams involved – will see the top three teams advance to the World Cup finals, while the fourth placed side will enter an inter-confederation play-off for a final World Cup spot.

Oceania[edit]

Qualification in Oceania was held as part of a further competition. The first stage took place with one group of four lowest ranked teams and the winner advanced to the second stage (which also acted as the 2016 OFC Nations Cup). In the second stage the top three teams advanced to the third round, among them Nations Cup champions New Zealand. Two groups of three teams contest the third round, or final group stage, and the winners of each group will enter a two-leg final. The winners of this final advance to an inter-confederation play-off for a World Cup spot.

South America[edit]

As in recent qualification series CONMEBOL qualification consists of a single group of all entrants. Unlike previous qualifying tournaments where the fixtures were pre-determined, the fixtures were determined by a draw, which was held as part of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw, on 25 July 2015.[16]

The top 4 teams from the 10-team group will advance to the World Cup finals, while the fifth placed team will enter an inter-confederation play-off for a World Cup spot.

Intercontinental play-offs[edit]

Like the previous 2014 tournament, the pairings for the two play-offs were determined by an open draw on 25 July 2015, as part of the aforementioned preliminary draw. Intercontinental play-offs are played as home-and-away ties.

Qualification tournament rules[edit]

Qualification tournaments generally consist of a number of stages, made up of groups or knock-out ties.

Groups[edit]

In all group tournaments, three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. FIFA has set the order of the tie-breakers for teams that finish level on points:

  1. goal difference in all group matches
  2. greater number of goals scored in all group matches

Where teams are still not able to be separated, the following tie-breakers are used:

  1. greater number of points obtained in matches between the tied teams
  2. goal difference in matches between the tied teams
  3. greater number of goals scored in matches between the tied teams

Where teams are still equal, then a play-off on neutral ground, with extra time and penalties if necessary will be played if FIFA deems such a play-off able to be fitted within the coordinated international match calendar. If this is not deemed feasible, then the result will be determined by the drawing of lot.

Note that this order of tie-breaker application has not always been applied. While it was used in the 2010 qualifiers, the qualification for the 2006 World Cup used the head-to-head comparison prior to goal difference (although this system was – where applicable – used in the 2006 finals themselves). If these rules had applied in 2006, then Nigeria would have qualified rather than Angola.

Home-and-away ties[edit]

Most knock-out qualifiers (such as the inter-confederation play-offs, the second round of UEFA qualifying and many preliminary ties) are played over two legs. The team that scores a greater aggregate number of goals qualifies. Away goals rule applies. If these rules fail to determine the winner, extra time and penalty shootouts are used.

Occasionally – usually when one entrant lacks adequate facilities to host international matches – ties are played over a single leg, in which case matches level after 90 minutes will go to extra time and then to a penalty shootout if required.

Alternatively, "home" matches can be played in neutral countries, or occasionally one team will host both matches. In the latter case the visiting team will still be considered as the "home" team for one of the legs – which may determine which side advances under the away goals rule, as occurred in CONCACAF qualification in 2010.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "History of the FIFA World Cup preliminary competition (by year)" (PDF). fifa.com. FIFA. November 2009. Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. 
  2. ^ "FIFA's 209 member associations" (PDF). fifa.com. FIFA. July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Fifa makes major policy shift". BBC News. 30 November 2001. 
  4. ^ "Current allocation of FIFA World Cup confederation slots maintained" (Press release). FIFA. 30 May 2015. 
  5. ^ "Africa calls for FIFA to increase World Cup places". Ahram Online. Reuters. 18 January 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "New Fifa chief backs 48-team World Cup". heraldlive. 7 October 2016. It’s an idea, just as the World Cup with 40 teams is already on the table with groups of four or five teams. 
  7. ^ "World Cup could expand to 48 teams, Fifa’s Gianni Infantino suggests". The Guardian. 3 October 2016. 
  8. ^ "Fifa approves Infantino’s plan to expand World Cup to 48 teams from 2026". The Guardian. 10 January 2017. 
  9. ^ "Bureau of the Council recommends slot allocation for the 2026 FIFA World Cup". FIFA. 30 March 2017. Archived from the original on 9 April 2017. 
  10. ^ "ExCo approves expanded AFC Asian Cup finals". AFC. 16 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "World Cup draw looms large in Asia". FIFA.com. 13 April 2015. Completing the tournament's qualifying contenders will be the next 16 highest ranked teams, with the remaining 12 sides battling it out in play-off matches to claim the last eight spots. 
  12. ^ "Uefa retains 2010 World Cup qualifying format for 2014". bbc.co.uk. 21 March 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "FIFA Congress drives football forward, first female secretary general appointed". FIFA.com. 13 May 2016. 
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  16. ^ "A unanimous decision: A draw will determine the classifications for the World Cup and CONMEBOL Tournaments". CONMEBOL.com. 23 January 2015. 

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