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Australia’s new path to FIFA World Cup qualification has been revealed as the Asian Football Confederation announced how its slots for the 48-team 2026 tournament will be won.
With eight entries to come directly from Asian qualifying – double the amount from the 2022 edition – the AFC has unveiled a four-round qualification system for the expanded 2026 World Cup in Mexico, Canada and the USA.
Based on current rankings, the Socceroos would enter qualifying in the second phase, in which 36 nations will play across nine groups, with only the top two teams from each group progressing.
Those 18 teams will split into three groups of six for further round-robin play, with the top two from each group sealing direct entry to the World Cup.
Those that finish third and fourth will head to a playoff round featuring two groups of three teams.Both group winners gain entry to the tournament, while the runners-up will play for a spot in FIFA’s intercontinental playoffs, creating the possibility of a ninth AFC team in the finals.
The first round, in which the nations ranked 26 to 47 in Asia will play two-leg fixtures, will be played in October 2023.
Australia, the AFC’s fourth-ranked side, would head into qualification confident of securing one of the eight direct spots.
They missed the AFC’s four direct entry slots for the 2022 World Cup, won by Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan.
The AFC said the qualifying format for the 2026 World Cup, and for the 2027 Asian Cup, was based on the entry of all 47 member associations “and is subject to change depending on the final number of entries”.