CAF unveils full football calendar and schedules including World Cup playoffs – At a glance

Meeting in Algiers on Thursday, May 18, on the eve of the final of the U17 AFCON, the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football has decided on the hot topics of the moment. The format of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, the dates of the group draws and the qualifiers for the tournament, but also for the 2023 AFCON finals, the body has formalized all its decisions.

For several weeks now, questions have been raised about the format of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers and especially about the dates on which the matches will be played. Due to an already busy world calendar, the temptation to couple the 2025 AFCON and 2026 World Cup qualifiers had been mentioned. In the end, this idea was discarded. This is one of the lessons learned from the meeting of the Executive Committee of CAF held on May 18 in Algiers. On the sidelines of the U17 AFCON, whose final will be played on May 19, the members of the body have validated the format of the qualifiers for the World Cup 2026, the dates of the matches, but also the draws.

The very first decision does not concern the World Cup 2026, but the 2023 AFCON. Eight months before the start of the competition, CAF announced that the official draw of the groups for the final phase will take place on Thursday, October 12. The place has not been communicated, but it should be in Côte d’Ivoire. Another expected date, that of the draw of the eliminatory groups for the World Cup 2026. This will be held in Benin on July 12, on the eve of the 45th Ordinary General Assembly of CAF, which will take place in Cotonou.

A play-off tournament in CAF zone to qualify for the intercontinental play-off

As for the format, CAF has opted for a new formula on the continent with full playoffs, including all 54 member federations. No preliminary rounds this time. This new format will therefore see 54 nations in the running divided into 9 groups of 6 teams each. The top teams in each group will qualify directly for the 2026 World Cup after 10 rounds of qualifying. The four best 2nd of the groups will still have a chance to qualify as they will face each other in a play-off tournament for the CAF zone.

The winner of the four-team tournament will play in the FIFA Intercontinental Playoff. If they win, they will then qualify for the final phase. A long journey that will begin on November 13. It is on this date that the first day of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers will be played, which will last until October 10, 2025, date of the 10th and last day. The play-off tournament of the CAF zone will be played from 10 to 18 November 2025, while the FIFA play-offs will take place in March 2026.

Date of the draw for the qualifying groups for the 2026 World Cup
Wednesday, July 12th

Date of the draw of the groups of the 2023 AFCON
Thursday, October 12th

Dates of the qualifying groups for the 2026 World Cup
November 13 to 21, 2023: 1st and 2nd day

June 3 to 11, 2024: 3rd and 4th day

March 17 to 25, 2025: 5th and 6th day

September 1 to 9, 2025: Day 7 and 8

October 6 to 10, 2025 : 9th and 10th day

November 10 to 18, 2025: CAF zone playoff tournament between the 4 best 2nd place finishers

March 2026: FIFA intercontinental play-off tournament

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