Starting from the 2026 World Cup, the participating teams will be expanded to 48 teams, and the AFC will get 8.5 places (6 direct places, 2 play-off places and 1 intercontinental play-off place). South Korean media analysis believes that after the Asian World Cup qualifying places are expanded to 8.5, Japan and South Korea will have an easier way to qualify, but China is still at the fringes of Asian football, and it is expected that it will still be difficult to grab a World Cup seat.
With only 4.5 World Cup qualifying places in Asia, the Korean men’s football team has reached the World Cup finals 10 times in a row. Therefore, when the number of places in the Asian region increases to 8.5, it will be easier for the Korean men’s football team to advance. After the expansion of the World Cup participation, the most noteworthy thing is the performance of the Chinese men’s football team. FIFA will never give up the Chinese market with a population of nearly 1.5 billion, but China is still in a marginal position in Asian football. Currently, the Chinese men’s football team ranks 78th in the FIFA rankings, behind Iran (23rd), Japan (24th), South Korea (28th), Australia (39th), Qatar (49th), Saudi Arabia ( 53), UAE (69), Iraq (70), Oman (75), Uzbekistan (77). At present, the Chinese men’s football team is ranked 11th in Asia. If this continues, it will be difficult for the Chinese men’s football team to enter the World Cup stage with 8.5 places in the Asian region.
In addition, the AFC recently announced how the 2026 World Cup qualifiers will be held, which will be increased from the existing three rounds to four rounds. The first round of qualifiers will be played by teams ranked 26-47 in FIFA Asia, and 11 of the 22 teams will advance. The South Korean team will start from the second round of qualifiers. The second round of qualifiers will consist of teams ranked 1-25 in the Asian region and the 11 teams that have advanced through the first round of qualifiers. In the second round of qualifiers, the 36 teams will be divided into 9 groups of 4 teams to play in a home and away system. The first and second places in each group (18 teams in total) will advance to the next round. . The third round of qualifiers is the final match. The 18 teams are divided into 3 groups of 6 teams. The first and second places (6 teams) in each group will go straight to the World Cup. According to the current FIFA rankings, South Korea is likely to be divided into seed teams along with Iran and Japan. So if Iran and Japan can be avoided in the third qualifiers, South Korea’s progress will be easier. Moreover, South Korea, Japan and Iran will join hands to reach the World Cup stage just like the Qatar World Cup qualifiers.
The fourth round is the play-off, in the third qualifying round, the third and fourth place (6 teams) in each group will be divided into 2 groups of 3 teams each. The two teams that won the first place in the group in the play-offs will get the remaining two tickets for the World Cup, and the two teams that won the second place in the group will play against each other to decide the team to participate in the intercontinental play-off.
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