Do World Cup hosts automatically qualify for the tournament?

World Cup 2026 Mexico USMNT CanadaGetty/Goal

It is a rare privilege in hosting a World Cup tournament, with thousands from around the world descending on the country and partaking in its culture and sights.

Hosting a World Cup tournament also comes with the right to automatically qualify – so how does that work, and what happens when there are multiple hosts to a competition? GOAL has what you need to know and more.

Do World Cup hosts automatically qualify for the tournament?

From the 1938 World Cup going forwards, every host nation has automatically qualified for the tournament.

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The host nation is the first country to qualify for the tournament, and they are not required to play qualification matches.

This is an obvious advantage to smaller countries who typically wouldn't have a great chance in qualifying for the World Cup through the traditional qualification means, like Qatar (who are hosting World Cup 2022).

What happens when there are multiple host countries?

South Korea and Japan both automatically qualified as hosts when they were awarded hosting rights to the 2002 World Cup.

This, however, was the last time that more than one country automatically qualified as hosts of a World Cup.

The 2026 World Cup will see the United States, Mexico and Canada all co-hosting the tournament, but FIFA has not yet confirmed the qualification process – and so it is still unknown if all three will be awarded automatic hosting rights.

The 2026 edition will be the first to include 48 teams, expanded from 32, so it is possible that all three host nations qualify automatically – but this has yet to be confirmed.

This would be a major boost for Canada, who last qualified for a World Cup tournament in 1986, while the United States Men's National Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Do World Cup winners automatically qualify for the next tournament?

Defending World Cup champions were given the right to automatically qualify for the next competition between 1938 and 2002, but this rule was discarded from the 2006 World Cup onward, when reigning champion Brazil had to qualify through the traditional process.

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