The World Cup is officially just around the corner, and the vast majority of nations have booked their spot in Qatar after securing automatic qualification. However, some of the other nations that weren’t able to qualify automatically now face an unnerving wait as they face the agony of a playoff to reach the world’s biggest football competition.
However, which nations have already faced their playoff tests and passed, and which nations still face a wait before finding out whether they will be kicking a ball in anger in Qatar?
One of the most grueling pathways to the World Cup in Qatar can be found in the AFC region. As explained by Brad King, Australia-Casino.co’s Sports Betting Manager, Australia have missed out on automatic qualification through to the World Cup this year. Instead, the Socceroos needed to settle for third place in the third round group, as they failed to win their last three games. As a result of that finish, the Aussies will now face a one-legged playoff in the fourth round against the United Arab Emirates. The UAE team finished third in their respective group to set up the match.
However, that isn’t the end of qualification for the winning side from that playoff, as they must then come up against the team that finished fifth in the CONMEBOL region. That means a showdown against Peru. A team looking to reach the World Cup tournament for the second straight time. They eventually finished fifth in their group after Paraguay 2-0 in their final qualifier. The inter-confederation playoff will take place in June.
The pathway for teams in Europe was very simple. Teams that win their respective groups in the first round would automatically reach the World Cup in Qatar. Many of the biggest nations were able to achieve this feat. England, France, and Spain all topped their respective groups. However, some powerhouse nations were forced into the playoffs, including reigning European champions, Italy and Portugal.
Italy were disastrously knocked out at the semi-final stage when they were upset by North Macedonia. Portugal, in contrast, faced few issues, as they eased past Turkey in the semi-finals then beat North Macedonia in their final. Poland were the only other nation to join them in this recent international break, as they beat Sweden 2-0. Meanwhile, the final pathway will be decided in June. Wales have already booked their place in the final, but the semi-final clash between Scotland and Ukraine will now take place in June following the Russian invasion of the latter.
The most intense story of World Cup qualification likely came in the CONCACAF region. The Canadian team finished top of their third round group to reach the pinnacle of the sport for the first time since the 1980s. Canada finished the third round top of the table, meaning that they finished ahead of both the United States and Mexico. However, both huge nations and co-hosts for the 2026 World Cup have already assured their spot in Qatar.
Costa Rica finished the group in fourth place in the standings, which means that they now drop into an inter-confederation playoff against the team from the OFC region. The Central American side are set to be the clear favorites to progress through that tie, as they should have far too much at both ends of the field against either the Solomon Islands or New Zealand.
The final qualification region was in Africa, and it has been a massive international break full of huge playoff ties. All ten group winners from the second round of qualifying progressed through to the third round, where the remaining sides played two-legged ties against the side that they were drawn against. There were some big stories from the third round of qualification in the CAF region.
The biggest of which is that Mohamed Salah will not be representing Egypt at the World Cup this year, as they were beaten on penalties by reigning AFCON champions Senegal. Salah missed from the spot in the shootout, as Senegal progressed. Algeria was also one of the big nations that were eliminated, as they were beaten by Cameroon. Meanwhile, Nigeria won’t be playing at the World Cup for the first time since 2006, as they were beaten by Ghana.
The other two nations that progressed from the CAF region were Morocco and Tunisia. After the two legs, Tunisia managed to edge past Mali with a 1-0 win. Meanwhile, Morocco made easy work of DR Congo, as they won the return game 4-1 after drawing 1-1 in the first leg.
This year’s World Cup will be an interesting set of storlines regardless of who makes the final cut to be in the tournament. With so many different factors at play, it will be hard for anyone to predict what the outcome will be. What is certain is that there will be exciting action all the way up to the final qualification rounds.