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FIFA plans six-nation playoff to fill 2026 World Cup's 48-team field

FIFA has announced its proposed allocation of places for the 48-team 2026 World Cup and revealed a six-nation playoff could be used to determine the last two spots.

The final slots would be decided in a proposed mini-tournament, played at the host nation in the November before the World Cup as a test event.

The idea was announced as part of the FIFA bureau proposal to award each of the six continental confederations extra places, which will be expanded from the 2026 edition onwards.

UEFA is set to get the three extra guaranteed places it wanted, bringing European nations' total to 16 qualifying slots.

The proposal also increases Africa from five to nine teams, Asia from 4.5 to eight, South America from 4.5 to six, North America from 3.5 to six and Oceania from a playoff spot to one guaranteed slot.

The playoff plan would replace the existing format of two intercontinental, two-legged ties that account for the half-slots, plus a European round of playoffs that allocates the last four of UEFA's quota of 13 qualifying slots.

Excluding Europe, the other five confederations would send one team to the newly suggested playoff, with the host continent providing the sixth side.

The suggested format would see the four lower-ranked teams paired for single knockout matches. The winners would advance to face the two higher-ranked teams.

The FIFA council, chaired by president Gianni Infantino, must approve the proposal at a meeting in Bahrain in May.

FIFA also said its bureau -- comprising Infantino and six confederation presidents -- wanted automatic entry for host nations to come from a confederation's quota.

With the United States, Mexico and Canada considering a co-hosting bid for 2026, the decision on which will get direct entry is set to be made by the council and not individual confederations.

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani recently told The Associated Press that he believes all three countries should automatically enter the tournament if chosen as co-hosts.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin welcomed the FIFA announcement.

"We are satisfied with the proposed slot allocation for the FIFA World Cup as of the 2026 edition, which was agreed today by all confederation presidents, at the bureau of the FIFA council meeting in Zurich," he said.

"We feel that UEFA will be fairly represented with a total of 16 national associations competing in the new format of the World Cup. We look forward to this proposal being ratified by the FIFA council in Bahrain on the 9th of May."

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