Although the number of member countries of FIFA had only increased slightly since the last World Cup, the number of entries for 1958 passed the 50 mark for the first time. The Soviet Union were there this time, encouraged by their win at the Olympic Football Tournament in Melbourne 1956, but drawn in a group with Poland and Finland they were forced to go to a deciding game against Poland, which they won 2-0 in front of a record 100,000 crowd in the Central Stadium in Leipzig.

The events in Hungary in 1956 had led to an exodus of most of the great players of the first half of the decade, and only Hidegkuti and Bozsik remained. Yet the re-built team did qualify; despite losing in Norway they twice beat Bulgaria, the other team in the group.

For the first (and so far only) time, all four British team qualified for the final round. The major surprise here was provided by Northern Ireland who eliminated Italy thanks to a 2-1 win in the last group game in Belfast. The Welsh were able to take advantage of an unusual situation in the Africa/Asia zone, where a flood of withdrawals would have led to Israel qualifying without having played a single match. This prompted FIFA to rule that qualification without playing was not allowed, and so Israel were ordered to play against one of the teams finishing second in the other groups. The luck of the draw favoured Wales, who defeated Israel 2-0 twice early in 1958.

Continental champions Argentina at last contested the qualifying round but - as was later also the case in Sweden - they had to manage without the young stars of their 1957 Copa America team, Humberto Maschio, Angelillo and Omar Sivori, who had joined Italian clubs and were not released for the national team. But they qualified, along with Brazil and, rather surprisingly Paraguay, who over-ran Uruguay 5-0 in their home game. As in 1954, Mexico dominated the North and Central America zone and won their tickets to Sweden without dropping a point.