World Cup 2026 qualifiers: Lowdown on UAE's path to global finals

The UAE national team begin their second round of qualification this week

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The UAE’s bid to reach the 2026 World Cup begins this week, with the second round of qualification getting under way. Here are the details.

What is it?

The second round of qualification for the 2026 global finals. The UAE are one of 26 teams to enter the campaign at the second stage, where they are joined by the 10 winners from the first-round play-offs.

Who qualifies?

With the 2026 World Cup, to take place in the United States, Canada and Mexico, the first global finals to be expanded to 48 teams – the past seven tournaments have featured 32 – there are now eight direct spots for representatives of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). However, there is also the potential for a ninth berth, via a series of play-offs.

For the second round, the 36 teams have been divided into nine groups of four, with the top two sides in each booking their place in the next stage – and at the same time confirming their participation at the 2027 Asian Cup in Saudi Arabia. Each team will play one another home and away.

Who is in the UAE's group?

For the draw, which took place in Malaysia in July, the UAE were seeded in Pot 1 given their Fifa ranking at the time (72). They were subsequently drawn in Group H alongside Bahrain, with Nepal and Yemen later confirmed as the pool’s other two sides. The pair, two of the lowest-ranked teams in qualification, came through play-offs last month against Laos and Sri Lanka, respectively.

UAE fixtures

The UAE, who have only once previously qualified for a World Cup, open their account against Nepal at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on November 16 – the home of Adnoc Pro League club Al Nasr. Venues for their remaining home matches have yet to be confirmed.

1) UAE v Nepal - Nov 16, 2023

2) Bahrain v UAE - Nov 21, 2023

3) UAE v Yemen - Mar 21, 2024

4) Yemen v UAE - Mar 26, 2024

5) Nepal v UAE - Jun 6, 2024

6) UAE v Bahrain - Jun 11, 2024

UAE's World Cup history

The UAE’s only World Cup appearance came in 1990, at the tournament in Italy, where they exited at the group stage. Last time out, in a bid to make Qatar 2022, the national team reached the first play-off round, but were beaten 2-1 by Australia in Al Rayyan.

How to watch

Fans wishing to attend the opener against Nepal can get tickets at Prices start at Dh15. Meanwhile, the UAE’s opening two matches (at least) will be shown on AD Sports TV, Dubai Sports TV and Sharjah Sports TV.

Updated: November 14, 2023, 7:58 AM