world cup qualifiers
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The world governing
body for football is the Federation Internationale de Football Association
(FIFA), with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA organizes the World
Cup and other international competitions, such as world youth and junior
championships. FIFA recognizes six continental groupings, which organize
the game in their regions.
The World Cup is held every four years. Countries qualify for the finals
over the previous two years through elimination groups in their
continental zones. Thirty-two nations contest the finals. Of the 32
places, 15 are currently allocated to Europe, with 5 each to South America
and Africa, 4 to Asia and Oceania together, and 3 to North and Central
America. Oceania's champions have to play off with the fourth-place team
from the Asian zone for the last place in the finals. These figures
include the host and titleholding countries, who qualify automatically, in
their respective zones. The World Cup finals take place over a period of
about a month at several venues in the host country. In the first round,
the qualifying nations are divided into eight groups of four, and each
team plays all the other teams in its group. The top two teams in each
group advance to the next round, which is a straight knock-out contest.
Brazil are the only country to have appeared in every World Cup finals
competition. They won their fourth trophy in 1994.
The governing body for Europe is the Union of European Football
Associations (UEFA). The European Championships are held every four years.
More than 30 countries take part, eight qualifying for the finals. UEFA
also organizes under-21 and youth competitions, and three major club
competitions. The club competitions, which take place annually, are the
European Cup, for champion clubs; the European Cup-Winners Cup, for
national cup holders; and the UEFA Cup for other leading teams. They are
run on a knock-out basis with home and away legs in each round except the
finals of the European Cup and the Cup-Winners Cup.
The four United Kingdom countries--England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern
Ireland--have their own Football Associations and compete separately at
both country and club level.
South America has fewer footballing nations than Europe, but has
won equal honours in international competition over the years owing mainly
to the strength of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Football in South
America is run by the Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol (CONMEBOL). The
chief competitions are the South American Championship for countries, and
the Copa de los Libertadores for clubs.
Africa is the emerging continent in world football. The game there
is run by the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF). Twelve countries
take part in the African Nations Cup, held once every four years. There
are also international club championships. In international competitions
African teams have produced encouraging performances against countries
from the traditional strongholds of the game. The game is South Africa's
most popular sport. In the early 1990's, the country's isolation from
international sport ended. South Africa formed a national team and began
competing against other countries.
North and Central America. Mexico, twice World Cup hosts, have
dominated this group, which includes the Caribbean countries. The
governing body is the Confederacion Norte-Centro-Americana y del Caribe de
Futbol (CONCACAF). In the United States, despite the traditional
popularity of American football and several false starts at professional
level, soccer has grown in popularity in the schools. The United States
team qualified for the 1990 World Cup finals, and the United States hosted
the 1994 World Cup finals.
Asia. Football is a major sport in the Asian Games, held every four
years. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also stages the four-yearly
Asian Football Championships. The game is particularly popular in the Arab
states and in Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.
Oceania. The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) is the smallest
continental association, and is dominated by Australia and New Zealand. It
has included countries such as Israel and Taiwan in its World Cup
qualifying group, for political reasons. In Australia, soccer has to
compete with the rugby codes and Australian Rules football, but several
leagues flourish, supported largely by immigrant communities. Australia
(1974), and New Zealand (1982), have played in World Cup finals.
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