A total of 55 teams entered the 1958 FIFA World Cupqualification rounds, competing for a total of 16 spots in the final tournament. Sweden as the hosts and West Germany, as the defending champions, qualified automatically, leaving 14 spots open for competition.
The qualification rounds for the four previous World Cups differed widely, with controversial rules and many withdrawals. From this tournament onwards, FIFA divided the teams into several continental zones, assigned a pre-determined number of places in the final tournament to each zone, and delegated the organisation of the qualifying tournaments to its confederations: UEFA of Europe, CONMEBOL of South America, NAFC of North America, CCCF of Central America and Caribbean, CAF of Africa and AFC of Asia (and OFC of Oceania after it was formed later).
The 16 spots available in the 1958 World Cup would be distributed among the continental zones as follows:
Europe (UEFA): 11 places, 2 of them went to automatic qualifiers Sweden and West Germany, while the other 9 places were contested by 27 teams.
South America (CONMEBOL): 3 places, contested by 9 teams.
North, Central America and Caribbean (NAFC/CCCF): 1 place, contested by 6 teams.
However, FIFA also imposed a rule that no team would qualify without playing at least one match because many teams qualified for previous World Cups without playing due to withdrawals of their opponents. Because Israel won the African and Asian zone under this circumstance, FIFA required them to enter a play-off against a team from Europe who initially did not qualify, with the winner of this play-off qualifying. Therefore, effectively in the end, a total of 11.5 places were granted to Europe while only 0.5 places were granted to Africa and Asia.
A total of 46 teams played at least one qualifying match. A total of 89 qualifying matches were played, and 341 goals were scored (an average of 3.83 per match).
Listed below are the dates and results of the qualification rounds.
The 27 teams were divided into 9 groups, each featuring 3 teams. The teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis. The group winners would qualify. Denmark, East Germany, Iceland and the Soviet Union made their debuts in World Cup qualification.
The 6 teams were divided into 2 groups with 3 teams each (Group 1 with teams from North America and Group 2 with teams from Central America and Caribbean). The teams played each other on a home-and-away basis. The group winners advanced to the Final Round. The two teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis with the winner qualifying for the final tournament.
A special play-off was created between Israel and the runner-up of one of the UEFA/CONMEBOL/CCCF/NAFC Groups, where the teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis, with the winner qualifying. Two-time champions Uruguay withdrew, while Northern Ireland and Italy had one final match yet to play, so all three were left out. Belgium, Bulgaria, Wales, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Peru, Bolivia and Costa Rica were left to draw. After Belgium refused, Wales, the runner-up of UEFA Group 4, was the team drawn from the UEFA group runners-up.
Wales is the only team to ever qualify after having been eliminated and then reinstated. Their qualification meant that all four Home Nations qualified, and that no team from the separate African and Asian zone qualified. This remains Wales' only appearance in the finals; they have never qualified through the European zone.
Italy were eliminated in qualifying for the first time. They would not fail again until 2018.
Two-time former champions Uruguay, who in their three previous appearances had always benefited from direct qualifications or withdrawals, now failed in what was the first time they actually had to play qualifying games.