The confederation of African Football (CAF) has made changes in the 2022 world Cup qualifying format for African teams, in what would be re-introducing a system last employed for the 2014 tournament, as the teams will have to contest a final playoff round in their World Cup 2022 qualification campaign.
Qualifiers for the next World Cup in Qatar will be divided into three stages with two rounds of knockout ties on either side of the league competition, officials said.
The 28 lowest-ranked sides on the continent will first contest a knockout round over two legs, with the 14 winners advancing to the group stage. The 28 include Madagascar, who reached the Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals last week.
The winners will join the 26 highest-ranked sides in a 40-team, 10-group pool phase that will be played over 18 months. The group winners will then be drawn into five playoff ties over two legs with the victors qualifying for the World Cup. The first leg is hosted by the lower-ranked country.
For the 2018 finals in Russia, there were two preliminary rounds to cut the field down to 20 countries, who then contested the five places for Africa in a group competition. The changes come despite no alteration in the number of World Cup places for African teams.
Fifa has left each continental confederation to decide its qualifying format for the 2022 World Cup and set its date for the preliminary round draw.
CAF has not announced the date of the draw but officials say it would be in Cairo at the end of the month. Africa’s World Cup qualifiers will overlap with qualifiers for the next Africa Cup of Nations in 2021 but a suggestion to combine them was rejected by CAF’s executive committee.
CAF has also announced the expansion of Africa Women Cup Of Nations from eight teams to 12 teams. Previous editions of AWCON has seen eight teams of two groups represented, but this latest decision to increase the number of participating teams to 12, means more countries will get the chance to showcase their worth on the big stage.