The teams of the final tournament host associations qualify automatically for the final tournament. The remaining teams are drawn into nine groups of five and six teams.
All matches in the qualifying 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 qualifying group stage, final group standings are compiled based on the number of points obtained by each team in the group. The nine group winners and the best runner-up qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight other runners-up contest play-offs to determine the four remaining finalists (see).