Following two World Cups held in Europe, the principle was established for 1962 that the competition would alternate from now on between Europe and America. This remained the pattern until 1996 when the World Cup for 2002 was assigned to two Asian countries. For 1962 the number of entries was only just above the level of the last competition and, still, fewer than 100 matches were needed in the qualifying round to see which 14 teams would get through.

The two automatic qualifiers this time were both South American, holders Brazil and hosts Chile. Also from South America were Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, who had defeated Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru respectively, over two games.

From Europe this time there would only be one British representative - England. Scotland had come close, but had lost a play-off against Czechoslovakia in Brussels. Last time's runners-up Sweden suffered the same fate in a close battle with Switzerland. Of the other big names, Soviet Union, Germany FR, Italy (strengthened with several exiled players from Argentina and Altafini from Brazil) had little trouble getting through. On the negative side there was France, winners of bronze medals in Sweden in 1958. They did not manage to overcome Bulgaria in the group games - injuries to Kopa, Fontaine and Piantoni weakening the team - and had to play a decider against the same opponent in Milan. A French own goal settled the outcome in favour of Bulgaria, who would also prove a stumbling block for the French 32 years later in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup USA 1994.

Of the African and Asian entries no team managed to qualify. The best teams from their preliminary round, Morocco and Korea Republic, were beaten in play-off matches by Spain and Yugoslavia. From CONCACAF, the Mexican team was again the one to qualify, despite losing their opening match against Costa Rica.