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Competition format

Thirteen UEFA member nations will join hosts Russia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup after competing in nine qualifying groups and four two-legged play-offs.
Competition format
Germany are aiming to be the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962 ©AFP/Getty Images

Competition format

Thirteen UEFA member nations will join hosts Russia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup after competing in nine qualifying groups and four two-legged play-offs.

European qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup consists of a group stage and a play-off round, providing 13 UEFA member nations for the 32-team final tournament in Russia (who qualify as by right).

Qualifying group stage
• The 54 entrants (all UEFA national associations except automatically qualified hosts Russia) play in nine groups of six.

• The nine group winners advance directly to the final tournament.

• The eight runners-up with the best record against the teams first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups proceed to play-offs to decide the remaining four European berths.

Dates
Matchday 1: 4–6 September 2016
Matchday 2: 6–8 October 2016
Matchday 3: 9–11 October 2016
Matchday 4: 11–13 November 2016
Matchday 5: 24–26 March 2017
Matchday 6: 9–11 June 2017
Matchday 7: 31 August–2 September 2017
Matchday 8: 3–5 September 2017
Matchday 9: 5–7 October 2017
Matchday 10: 8–10 October 2017
Final tournament (Russia): 14 June–15 July 2018

Play-offs
First leg: 9–11 November 2017
Second leg: 12–14 November 2017

Final tournament
The allocation for other confederations is: Asian Football Confederation (AFC) 4.5, Confederation of African Football (CAF) 5.0, Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) 3.5, South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) 4.5, Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) 0.5 – plus, of course, one slot for the Russian hosts. The teams will be drawn into eight groups of four with the top two going into the knockout phase.

• Further details, including the criteria for separating sides that finish level on points in a group, or after extra time in a match, can be found in theofficial competition regulations ...

http://www.uefa.com/european-qualifiers/about/format/index.html