It's not even been a full year since the 2022 World Cup but qualification for the next edition in 2026 is already underway in some continents. The World Cup African qualification groups were drawn back in July 2023 and the first round of matches are set to take place during the November international break.
For 2026 qualifying, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) have introduced a new format which involves 54 teams being split into nine groups of six. Seedings were used to ensure the highest-ranked teams were kept apart with just one team from each group guaranteed a place at the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
The four best-performing second-placed teams will then enter a separate playoff tournament with the winner becoming CAF's representative at the inter-confederation play-offs. It could mean that a record ten African nations could line up at the 2026 World Cup.
2026 World Cup African qualification group winners – Group by group
Egypt – Burkina Faso – Guinea-Bissau – Sierra Leone – Ethiopia – Djibouti
Egypt are the firm favourites to qualify from Group A with 2026 likely representing the final opportunity for Mo Salah to play in a World Cup again. Salah and co failed to qualify for the 2022 edition and were knocked out in the group stages in 2018 so the Liverpool man will be keen for one more crack at the tournament before he hangs up his boots.
Egypt's biggest threats in Group A will be Burkina Faso, who have never qualified for a World Cup before. The closest they came was in 2014 when they lost out on qualification purely through the away goals rule. They were the highest-ranked team in pot two, however, and could cause Egypt major problems.
Senegal – DR Congo – Mauritania – Togo – Sudan – South Sudan
Senegal will be expected to qualify from Group B in first place as they are widely recognised as the best African team in the world. They are the reigning African Cup of Nations champions and have plenty of talent across the pitch, including Sadio Mane and Nicolas Jackson.
DR Congo and Mauritania are both handy outfits and will be competing in the upcoming African Cup of Nations after navigating their qualification groups impressively. However, it will be a huge surprise if either side manages to finish above Senegal.
Nigeria – South Africa – Benin – Zimbabwe – Rwanda – Lesotho
Group C will be a battle between Nigeria and South Africa with the other four teams unlikely to pose much of a threat. Nigeria have played in six of the last eight Fifa World Cups and have made it through the group stages in three of those so they have plenty of pedigree.
South Africa may not have the same level of talent as Nigeria in their squad but they have an experienced group who know how to win football matches. They have qualified for the upcoming African Cup of Nations and are fancied to do quite well.
Cameroon – Cape Verde – Angola – Libya – Eswatini – Mauritius
Cameroon may have crashed out in the group stages of the 2022 World Cup but they did enjoy a famous win over Brazil which will live long in the memory. Cameroon have a long-standing history in the World Cup and they will be keen to add to that by qualifying for the 2026 edition.
Cape Verde are one of the most exciting teams in CAF, but are yet to have qualified for a World Cup. Angola, meanwhile, haven't qualified since 2006 and are unlikely to have another quality to overcome Cameroon.
Morocco – Zambia – Congo – Tanzania – Niger – Eritrea
Based on the FIFA world rankings, Morocco are the best team in Africa and should therefore find Group E a walk in the park. They have competed at the previous two World Cups and made history in Qatar when they became the first African team in history to reach the semi-finals of the tournament.
They ultimately lost to France but a fourth-placed finish at a World Cup is nothing to be sniffed at and they will be eager to prove that their performance in Qatar wasn't a fluke. Zambia are a good team, though, so this group won't be entirely straightforward for Morocco the Zambians finishing higher than Ivory Coast in the recent qualifying for the African Nations Cup.
Ivory Coast – Gabon – Kenya – Gambia – Burundi – Seychelles
Group F represents what looks on paper to be the weakest of all nine groups. Ivory Coast are the favourites to come out of this one but they aren't the powerhouse they once were while second seeds, Gabon, haven't even managed to qualify for the upcoming African Cup of Nations.
Gambia could prove to be dark horses in this group as they have picked up several impressive wins in recent years. At the last African Cup of Nations, they made it all the way to the quarter-finals and they have qualified again for the next edition of the tournament in January.
Algeria – Guinea – Uganda – Mozambique – Botswana – Somalia
Algeria haven't appeared in the two most recent World Cups but they have still been putting in good performances elsewhere. They won the 2019 African Cup of Nations and dropped just two points in the recent qualifying for the upcoming AFCoN.
Uganda are unlikely to threaten Algeria with the two most recent fixtures between the two sides finishing 4-1 on aggregate to Algeria. That leaves Guinea as the only possible threat to Riyad Mahrez and co but they have lack real star quality.
Tunisia – Equatorial Guinea – Namibia – Malawi – Liberia – Sao Tome and Principe
Tunisia are the third highest ranked African team in the world but they won't be overly pleased with this draw. They were drawn alongside Equatorial Guinea in qualifying for the 2023 African Cup of Nations and the two sides finished level on points after six matches. Although Tunisia beat Equatorial Guinea 4-0 at home, they lost the reverse fixture 1-0 which will put doubts in their minds.
Elsewhere, Namibia are a solid outfit that can make life difficult for top-quality opposition so Group H is full of banana skins for the top seeds.
Mali – Ghana – Madagascar – Central African Republic – Comoros – Chad
Group I is probably the toughest group to call with just nine places separating Mali and Ghana in the FIFA world rankings. Mali have never qualified for a World Cup before while Ghana have competed in four of the last five editions of the tournament.
Out of the last five competitive matches between the two nations, Ghana have won three and Mali have won two which illustrates just how closely matches they are. The two matches between the two sides will undoubtedly decide who qualifies from Group I.