Between 1934 and 1978, the World Cup usually took place between 16 teams, mostly from Europe and South America - with those continents usually being the homes of the victors - and some participants from North America, Asia, Oceania, and Africa. In 1982, the tournament began to incorporate 24 teams. Since 1998, the tournament has brought place between 32 competing teams, allowing more African, Asian, and North American teams to participate.
The tournament itself occurs over the span of a month between 32 competing teams who've made it through the qualification phases that have taken place over the 36 months in-between tournaments since the second World Cup in 1934. The inaugural World Cup tournament is alone in the championship's history which didn't employ such qualifying rounds. The qualification process currently occurs between nearly two hundred international teams, and may begin as early as 36 months prior to the World Cup's final tournament and last as long as two years.
The qualifying tournaments are held in all of FIFA's six continental zones and organized by each of their confederations according for their own formats, including Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Caribbean, and Oceania. Based on the collective strength of the teams within each confederation, FIFA determines in advance the number of team slots will be granted to each of the continental zones.
Eight teams are seeded for the finals, centered on a formula involving the FIFA World Rankings alongside team's past World Cup performances. Considering that the 1938 World Cup, the host nations for a given year are automatically qualified to compete in the ultimate tournament. Before the 2006 World Cup, each year's defending champions had also automatically qualified to enter the ultimate tournament, a two-stage competition involving teams from 32 nations competing over the span of a month within their respective host nations. The first stage is called the group stage, and the second reason is the knockout stage.
The group stage involves eight four-team groups playing round-robin tournaments, or tournaments where each team competes in three matches against teams within its group. Teams within each continental zone are often randomly drawn to their separate groups. By 1998, the draw has been restricted to ensure no one group contains significantly more than two teams from European countries, or more than one team from every other single confederation. Each group two teams are ranked based on a place system which since 1994 has allotted three points for every win, one time for every draw, and no points for losses. Other factors include the best number of points gained from group matches, the best goal difference in group matches, the greatest number of goals scored during group matches, and if necessary the most points in head-to-head matches among multiple teams still placed at the exact same ranking, with their greatest goal difference in head-to-head matches those types of teams, and the best number of goals scored in head-to-head matches among them. If after every one of these considerations you can find still any tied rankings, lots are only drawn to ascertain rankings as a last resort. Those determined to be the very best two ranked teams in each group move ahead in to the knockout stage, a single-elimination tournament involving teams competing against each other in one-off matches in which the winner of each group plays against the runner-up of another group. Then the quarter-finals, semi-finals, the third place match (between the losers of the semi-finals), and the finals. When necessary, penalty shootouts and more time may even be properly used to ascertain official winners in close calls.
Following these events, the FIFA Confederations Cup occurs at the upcoming World Cup's host nations the year before the actual World Cup, among the present FIFA World Cup champion, the upcoming World Cup's host nation, and the winners of the six FIFA confederation championships, in preparation for the actual World Cup tournament the next year, as dress rehearsal of sorts. The thing not rehearsed could be the handing out from the actual World Cup trophy sports award.
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