The FIFA World Cup qualification process is a series of tournaments organized by the six FIFA confederations to decide 31 of the 32 teams which play in the FIFA World Cup Finals, with the host country qualifying automatically (Russia is the host for 2018).
FIFA stands for Federation of International Football Association or The Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
All 210 remaining FIFA member associations were eligible to enter the qualifying process.
The formats of the qualifying competitions depend on each FIFA affiliated confederation.
Each round of this process might be played in either of the following formats:
(1) League format, where more than two teams form groups to play home-and-away round-robin matches, or in exceptions permitted by the FIFA Organizing Committee, single round-robin matches hosted by one of the participating teams or on neutral territory.
(2) Knockout format, where two teams play home-and-away two-legged matches.
Teams and Continents
Following is the allocation of team numbers per confederation for the Finals. This will remain valid for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar:
- Africa: 5
- Asia: 4.5
- Europe: 13
- North, Central America and Caribbean: 3.5
- Oceania: 0.5
- South America: 4.5
- Host: 1
The 23rd FIFA World Cup 2026 will see the tournament expanded from current 32 to 48 teams.
On 10 January 2017, the FIFA Council voted unanimously to expand to a 48-team tournament.
However, the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018 has 32 teams divided into 8 groups with 4 teams each.
How Groups are formed in FIFA World Cup finals?
32 national teams were qualified through various qualification matches, which are playing finals in Russia.
The number of teams from each continent (Confederation) allocated by FIFA decisions is as mentioned above.
Once these 32 qualified teams were finalized, they are placed in 4 pots for draw. The teams’ names are placed into the drawing pots in accordance with their FIFA rankings.
Following are the qualified national teams and the pots they were placed in for the purpose of group division in FIFA World Cup finals 2018:
*Numbers in parenthesis after the country’s name indicate FIFA Ranking for that team.
Note: Selecting teams for the pot is also known as seeding.
Following rules are applied while allocating each pot and qualified national teams:
Pot 1 – Highest FIFA ranked 3 teams plus the host country. (As shown in the table above, pot 1 contains teams with ranking 1 through 7 plus the host Russia – rank 65).
Pot 2 – Second highest ranked teams. (Teams ranked 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18)
Pot 3 – Third highest ranked teams. (Teams ranking 19, 21, 22, 25, 28, 30, 32, 34)
Pot 4 – Fourth highest ranked teams. (Teams ranking 38, 41, 43, 44, 48, 49, 62, 63)
Now, the 8 groups are selected by draw. One team from each pot is drawn. This process finalizes 8 groups, each group containing 4 qualified national teams.
The World Cup 2018 Finals have the following groups (A to H) prepared by the same method of draw and seeding:
According to the FIFA rankings, the strongest group is E (combining for 4415 points), followed by F (4151), B (4128), C (4101), D (4099), G (3953), H (3944) and the weakest by far is the host nation’s group A (2991).
Flaw in FIFA rule
All these rules made by FIFA have been agreed upon by all nations participating in the World Cup.
However, there seems a huge flaw in this group division rule.
The pots and the teams are arranged in such a way that in every group there is one high ranked team. In terms of playing skills, it is obvious that the higher ranking team is stronger than the lower ranking one.
The rule of group division allocates one strongest team, and one weakest team to each of the groups. In the group league matches within the groups, there is no chance of confronting of two strongest teams. All the group stage matches are played between and among strongest and weakest teams.
It makes the lower ranked teams get disqualified in the group stage. The higher ranking teams meet only in Semi finals.
This is the huge flaw in FIFA rule of group making, which blocks lower ranking teams reach even to quarter finals. These teams are thrown away earlier in the group stage by the stronger teams in their group.
Though, a team winning the World Cup Final has to be strong and skillful, lower ranking teams should also have chances of going through, say, at least to Semi Finals.
This is why only few teams have won the World Cup, even a single team many times.