The Socceroos’ path to the 2026 World Cup will be a 16-match journey – provided the Australians are among the Asian Football Confederation’s top six qualifiers.

To be jointly hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the 2026 edition of the tournament will expand to include 48 nations.

With 16 more countries to qualify than the 32 at this year’s World Cup, the AFC will have at least eight representatives and a maximum of nine.

Provided, as expected, the Socceroos are at the time among the AFC’s top 25 nations, they will join the race to reach the 2026 World Cup in the second round of the preliminary qualifiers, which is set to start late next year and will involve 36 teams who will be divided into nine groups of four.

Each nation will play six games in a round-robin, home and away format, with the top two from each group – 18 in total – to advance to the stage known as the AFC Asian Qualifiers.

The 18 teams – who will be divided into three groups of six – will play 10 matches in a round-robin, home and away format, with the top two from each group to qualify directly for the World Cup.

The teams finishing third and fourth in each of the three groups will be drawn into two further groups of three and play two matches in a single round-robin format.

Both of the group winners will qualify for the World Cup.

The two second-placed teams will meet in a playoff, with the winner to represent the AFC in an Intercontinental playoff, where a World Cup berth will be up for grabs.

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