In 2026, the World Cup will have a record 48 teams. This means more countries will have the opportunity to make their World Cup — however controversial, this is something that is needed. In the 2022 edition, Qatar was the only nation to make its debut in the tournament. In 2018, it was two (Panama and Iceland), one in 2014 (Bosnia), and one in 2010 (Slovakia).
With the expanded tournament, plenty of countries will get a chance to play for the first time. Already some countries are starting to place the foundations that will help them qualify in three years. Here are five countries to look out for:
Vietnam came very close to qualification in 2022, reaching the final round of AFC qualifiers. Unfortunately, they struggled against some of Asia’s top teams, recording just four points. Regardless, they showed a lot of promise, and some players have recently transferred to strong leagues — including Nguyễn Công Phượng, who joined J-League side Yokohama. Vietnam will continue to be a force in the near future, but they could finally break out in 2026.
What’s there to say about Georgia? Napoli star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is, right now, one of the best players in the world. Giorgi Mamardashvili is one of the more consistent goalkeepers in Europe’s top flight right now. Giorgi Gocholeishvili is a rising star (and has since signed for Shakhtar) as are Georges Mikautadze and Luka Parkadze. Georgia will have an excellent roster by 2026.
Uzbekistan is another former Soviet state that is emerging as a potential force: Eldor Shomurdov is a very capable Serie A striker, Umarali Rakhmonaliev is establishing himself in Russia, and emerging talents back home like Abbosbek Fayzullaev has been making waves. They just won the u20 Asian Cup, and many of those players will be approaching their prime by 2026. The White Wolves have every chance to qualify for the next World Cup.
Venezuela remains the only South American country to never qualify for a World Cup and even finished last in qualifiers in 2022. However, things are changing for La Vinotinto, who is building a talented young core. Additionally, other South American rivals are losing key figures to retirement, so it’s a great chance for Venezuela to qualify.
Burkina Faso made headlines last season when they reached the semi-finals of AFCON, where they lost to eventual winners Senegal. Since then, they’ve seen some top talents continue to improve, such as Issa Kaboré and Dango Ouattara. Add in defensive fixtures Edmond Tapsoba and Adamo Nagano, and the future looks bright for the Stallions. The 2026 World Cup will have more African teams, and Burkina Faso has a good chance to be one of those teams.
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