The teams are drawn into nine groups of five or six teams.
All matches in the group stage are played according to the league system, with each team playing one home match and one away match against each of the other teams in its group. Three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw, and none for a defeat.
On completion of the group stage, final group standings are compiled based on the number of points obtained by each team in the group. The nine group winners qualify directly for the FIFA Women's World Cup. The nine group runners-up contest play-offs to determine the two remaining teams that qualify directly for the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the team that qualifies for the FIFA Women’s World Cup play-off tournament (see).