Africa’s World Cup qualifying draw launches new format and at least 9 teams toward 2026 event

London, July 14 (BNA): Nigeria and South Africa were drawn into the same World Cup qualifying group today, Thursday, in a reconfigured African competition that will see at least nine teams participate in the 2026 finals in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

An expanded 48-team World Cup in three years means the number of African teams has risen from five to nine, with a tenth African team likely to qualify for an intercontinental play-off.

In the new African format, the winners of the nine groups of just six teams are guaranteed a place in the World Cup, reports the Associated Press.

The four best runners-up teams enter the African Qualifiers and the team that comes through those teams makes it to a mini-continental tournament, where the final two World Cup teams will be decided.

Morocco, who reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, is the first African or Arab team to reach the semi-finals after their surprising run in Qatar last year, in a group where their toughest tests are likely to come from 2012 African champions Zambia and Niger.

The African qualifiers will be played from November to October 2025. Benin, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Lesotho are the other teams in Group C with Nigeria and South Africa.

Zimbabwe was included in the draw after FIFA lifted an international ban on the country on Tuesday. Zimbabwe was suspended in February 2022 due to government interference in the Football Association.

Morocco, Zambia and Niger are in Group E, with the Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Eritrea in 200th place out of 211 FIFA teams.

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The draw followed the convening of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) General Assembly in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the West African country that will host the next Africa Cup of Nations in January and February.

Defending African champions Senegal will play Congo, Mauritania, Togo, Sudan and South Sudan in Group Two. Sudan’s neighbors are playing each other in World Cup qualifiers after they split into independent countries in 2011 after decades of civil war.

Egypt is in Group A, and is expected to push Burkina Faso to qualify there. Egypt played in the World Cup in Russia 2018 after an absence of 18 years, but it was absent from Qatar.

Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon and Ghana were the five African teams that qualified for last year’s World Cup. While Morocco made history by reaching the semi-finals, Senegal lost in the round of 16 and the other three never made it past the group stage.

Ghana faces a difficult qualifying path in Group A against Mali, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Chad and Comoros, the small island archipelago that beat the Ghanaians in the group stage of the last African Cup and pushed them to an early and embarrassing elimination.

Tunisia plays with Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Malawi, Liberia and Sao Tome and Principe in Group H. Cameroon faces Cape Verde, Angola, Libya, Eswatini and Mauritius in Group D. Algeria is with Guinea, Uganda, Mozambique, Botswana and Somalia in the group. c.

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At the General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football, FIFA President Gianni Infantino announced that a new African Football League featuring eight clubs from across the continent will be launched on October 20.

The African League was set to launch in August with 24 teams and $100m in prize money, but it has been delayed and reduced to a much smaller competition.

Infantino said it would eventually evolve into a “big version” but gave no details about which clubs will take part in the starting line-up or whether it will remain Africa’s richest tournament, as CAF president Patrice Motsepe promised at last year’s General Assembly in Tanzania.


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