Qualifying to play at the FIFA World Cup tournament is surely not an easy task. Even though the event takes place every four years, yet the process involved in deciding who qualifies and who does not qualify involves a series of tournaments organized by the six FIFA confederations under FIFA and from there, decisions are made as to which teams will play.
These six FIFA confederations are Asian Football Confederation (AFC) which has 47 members, Confederation of African Football (CAF) with 56 members, Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) with 41 members, Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) which has 10 members, Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) with 11 members, and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) with 55 members. These six confederations have been recognized by FIFA to oversee games in the different continents and regions of the world. By implication, any member who would want to be a part of FIFA must first belong to one of these confederations.
In all, there are 211 national associations under FIFA. And all these national association football teams go through a qualifying tournament held with the six FIFA continental zones by each confederation. However, before these tournaments hold, depending on the numbers of the teams in each confederation, FIFA would have placed the number of places in the finals that is allocated to each of the continental zones. But then, any national association team that is hosting the World Cup tournament for that year receives an automatic berth while the other 31 slots are to be determined following process.
Every confederation designs their system of selection as to which national association would represent them at the World Cup. For instance, African Confederation uses two rounds to determine the number of teams that would qualify for the third round. And after which, all the winners in each group featuring five groups of four teams will advance to the World Cup. This then makes the total number of representatives from Africa to be four.
- Asian Football Confederation:
Asian Football Confederation (AFC), on the other hand, uses two qualifying rounds to reduce the national association teams under them into 12 and from this, they form two groups of six teams with the teams playing each other. Those who win in each group and their runner-ups will automatically qualify for the World Cup. Then, the teams in the third place will also play against each other in a series, and whosoever emerges as the winner advances to an intercontinental playoff with whosoever wins at the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC).
- Union of European Football Associations
Under the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) which has 52 participants to compete for the 13 slots given to them in the finals, there are two separate rounds with the first having a group of six teams with seven groups playing in a series and the second set having two groups of five teams also playing in a home and away level. Whosoever wins in each of the nine groups automatically qualifies for the event and the best eight runners-up chosen through the total points they have will make up the second round. And at this stage, these eight participants would be paired into four groups based on their aggregate goals to play a home and away series so that those who win will end up qualifying for the tournament.
- North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football
For North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), it is usually a tough time for them as there are usually three to four slots given to them. So, what is done to determine who qualifies for the tournament is that there would be four rounds of tournaments where the sets of small groups play home and away knockout matches and the qualifiers would end up forming a single six team who would also play a home and away matches. From there, the three toppers would qualify for the World Cup. Even though the team that is fourth-placed may qualify but it will have to face a home and away match with whichever team emerges in the fifth place from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) region.
- Oceania Football Confederation
Furthermore, Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) with 11 members usually gets a single slot, and the method of selecting who qualifies for the World Cup involves using the tournament at the South Pacific Games to judge. Four participants play in the first round based on ranking, and sporting reasons and the winner of this tournament will advance to the second round where there are seven Oceanian nations remaining. By this, eight teams are formed and drawn into two groups of four teams to play in a round robin. Then, the group winners, their runners-up and the third-placed teams from each group would advance to the third round. The six teams to qualify will then be placed into two groups of three and made to play each other in a home and away series. The two winners in each of these groups will have to play against each other and whosoever wins will be entitled to an intercontinental playoff against whosoever finishes in the fifth place in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for a place in the World Cup.
- Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol
And for Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the method of selection is that, since there are ten member nations, they play a single 10-team league so that each side plays every other team in a home and away bases. The top four participants to emerge will qualify automatically while any team that ends in the fifth place will advance to an intercontinental playoff against any team to finish in the fourth place from the North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In a situation where two or more participants have the same points, what are usually done to determine the ranking are the overall goal difference from all group matches played, the highest number of goals scored and points obtained as well as higher number of goals scored away from home among all the teams in question.