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FIFA Launches 20-Team Lineup in Global Series of Friendlies with Saudi Arabia Hosting 2 Pools

A new series of men’s international friendly has been introduced by FIFA in collaboration with Saudi Arabia with the goal of assisting lower-ranked nations in better preparing for their eventual World Cup participation.
Only four of the 20 teams participating in the inaugural FIFA Series matches next month are past World Cup qualifiers, as revealed on Monday. These are South Africa, Bolivia, Algeria, and Bulgaria.

In the kingdom’s most recent collaboration with FIFA, after hosting the seven-team Club World Cup in December, Saudi Arabia will host two of the four-team pools that will take place from March 18–26, albeit it will not participate in any of them. When Saudi Arabia emerges victorious in a vote among FIFA member federations, it will be officially announced as the 2034 World Cup host nation this year.

Next month, each of the following countries will host a pool: Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, and Algeria.
In addition to Bolivia, South Africa, which is this month’s Africa Cup semifinalist, and Andorra, a European tiny, the games will be hosted by Algeria, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations champion.

The FIFA Series idea was unveiled by the body’s president, Gianni Infantino, during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. His goals include making World Cups more competitive and improving the standard of play in nations outside of South America and Europe, which are soccer’s two major power bases.

Only three teams from outside those continents have ever advanced to a semifinal—the United States in the 1930 event, South Korea in 2002, and Morocco in 2022. European and South American teams have dominated all 22 men’s World Cups.

Rather than having 32 teams, the 2026 event, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, will have 48 participants, offering greater opportunities to teams that have never made it to the World Cup.
The Asian Football Confederation will send at least eight countries to the World Cup in 2026, up from four, and Africa will have nine guaranteed spots instead of five. Intercontinental playoffs offer more entries.

The FIFA Series is designed to help national sides, who don’t often play abroad, advance more quickly. FIFA will cover some of the expense of their travel.
According to Kenny Jean-Marie, chief member associations officer of FIFA, teams are being given “windows of opportunity” to observe and absorb different playing techniques.

“In an online briefing, Jean-Marie stated that it might present an extra chance for member associations to visit Saudi Arabia and play games at their beautiful stadiums, while also giving Saudi Arabia experience hosting various international friendlies.”
Teams that advanced to the Africa Cup quarterfinals will be competing in the pools that Saudi Arabia is hosting next month. Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, and Cambodia will compete against Cape Verde. Brunei Darussalam, Vanuatu, and Bermuda are the opponents Guinea will face.

Tanzania, Mongolia, and Bulgaria will all be hosted by Azerbaijan. Sri Lanka, ranked No. 204 among FIFA’s 211 men’s national teams, will play Papua New Guinea, Bhutan, and the Central African Republic.
The three European teams competing in the inaugural FIFA Series did not earn a spot in the 24-team Euro 2024 competition, which is taking place in Germany. More than 20 teams are expected to compete in the upcoming FIFA Series in March 2026, with intentions to include higher-ranked teams.

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