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Road to the FIFA World Cup 2026 begins next week Thursday

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The very first ball on the road to World Cup 2026 will be kicked next week Thursday, 7 September when Paraguay host Peru. Later that same day, Argentina begin their title defence when they host Ecuador.

That is just 263 after they lifted the World Cup at Qatar 2022. Preliminary competitions for Africa and Asia will also get under way before the end of the year as nations battle it out for coveted spots at the global finals.

In Asia which is the most populous confederation, eight teams are set for direct qualification and a further berth possible via the Play-off Tournament.

The first round of the FIFA World Cup 26 Asia Football Confederation (AFC) qualification competition will take place in October. Twenty teams will contest 10 two-legged home-and-away ties, with the winners joining 26 other nations in the second round.

There are five qualifying rounds in total to determine the eight direct slots Asia has been awarded at the FIFA World Cup 26, with one additional nation progressing to the FIFA Play-off Tournament.

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Africa’s preliminary tournament begins on 13 November 2023.

The 54 CAF nations will compete in nine groups of six, with each of the group winners qualifying automatically for the FIFA World Cup 26.

The four best group runners-up will advance to a play-off stage to determine the Mother Continent’s sole representative at the FIFA Play-off Tournament.

Co-hosts Canada, Mexico and USA all receive automatic berths, leaving three direct slots and a possible further two via the Play-off Tournament up for grabs in Concacaf.

The qualification tournament will begin in March 2024. The region’s four lowest-ranked teams will be split into two match-ups and will contest home-and-away ties. The winners will advance to the second round.

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In the second round, a total of 30 Concacaf sides will compete in six groups of five teams. The nations will play the other teams in their groups once. Each country will play two home matches and two away games. The group winners and runners-up (12 teams in total) will progress to the final round.

The 12 nations in the final round will be split into three groups of four teams. Within each group, teams will play each other home and away. The three group winners will qualify directly for the World Cup, joining hosts Canada, Mexico and USA. The two best second-place finishers will qualify for the FIFA Play-off Tournament.

CONMEBOL qualifying will begin on 7 September 2023 and end in September 2025.

Ten teams will compete in a single league format and play each other home and away. The top six teams will qualify automatically for the World Cup, with the seventh-placed side entering the FIFA Play-Off Tournament.

For the very first time, Oceania will have a guaranteed qualification spot for the World Cup, as well as a second second slot via the Play-off Tournament.

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The first of three preliminary rounds, which will involve the continent’s four lowest-ranked nations, is due to take place in September 2024. A second stage, entailing two four-team groups, will then be played out over the next two months, before a decisive third round in March 2025 brings together four teams for semi-finals and finals that will determine OFC’s World Cup and Play-off Tournament representatives.

Europe’s qualifying competition is scheduled to begin in March 2025 and conclude in March 2026.

The first round will follow a familiar format, with 12 groups of four or five teams, and the section winners securing World Cup slots. The continent’s four remaining berths will then be settled in a 16-team UEFA play-off competition involving the 12 group runners-up and four best-ranked UEFA Nations League section winners.

The FIFA Play-off Tournament will see six sides fight it out for the final two places at the 23rd FIFA World Cup.

It will involve two teams from Concacaf and one team apiece from the AFC, CAF, CONMEBOL and OFC. The four lowest-ranked nations will meet in bracket semi-finals. The two highest-ranked teams will go directly into the finals. The winners of the two bracket finals will reach the FIFA World Cup 26.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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World Cup

BREAKING! Finidi George formally resigns

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George has resigned from his post as Super Eagles’ coach, two days after the Nigeria Football Federation announced it was going to employ a foreign technical adviser.

A source close to Finidi told Sports Village Square that Finidi sent his resignation letter to Ibrahim Gusau “3o minutes ago.”

 Finidi was said to be livid that the NFF leadership met with the sports minister two days ago, but failed to mention that players reported late to the camp and that they didi nothing to mobilise Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to come out to support the Super Eagles in last Monday’s match with Benin Republic.

“He complained that the NFF heaped all the blames on him”, said the source.

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  Calls to NFF officials to verify the information were not answered.  

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World Cup

UPDATE: NFF may spare Finidi George

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Under fire Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George may excape sack afterall. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told Sports Village Square that Finidi may not be sacked.

 He would however work under the foreign technical adviser that the football governing body is planning to hire in the next few weeks.

  The source who was privy to the Wednesday’s ‘hybrid mode’ meeting of the NFF informed that Finidi George will be designated as ‘Chief Coach’ while the expatriate will be the technical adviser.

It is however unclear how the NFF will foot the wage bill of the technical adviser, who may also come with his personal crew as Finidi George  also already have his own foreign assistants.

There is also no word on the loud absence of Daniel Amokachi who was designated as Finidi George’s assistant, but failed to show up at the Super Eagles’ camp leading to the ill-fated World Cup match day 3 and 4 encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.  

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