Europe-based teams hoping to compete at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be split among eight groups of six teams, and one group of five, UEFA announced in the Netherlands.
European football chief Michel Platini revealed the new format during the under-21 European Championships, won by hosts the Netherlands on Saturday.
From the 53 UEFA-affiliated countries involved in qualifying, 13 will go on to compete at the 32-nation 2010 World Cup, the first to be held on the African continent.
The nine group winners will qualify directly and the best eight runners-up will play home and away play-off matches for the remaining four places.
Platini said: "It's a good compromise because I wasn't entirely satisfied with the previous format comprised of groups with seven and eight teams."