Qatar 2022: Ronaldo, Lewandowski, Bale, and others may lose out on qualification as only three spots remain in the 2022 FIFA World Cup after ten European nations qualified.
Eleven countries, including Scotland, Wales, European winners Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden, are still hoping to qualify for the tournament in Qatar in November and December.
The current play-off situation differs slightly from that which existed when the draw was conducted in November in reaction to Fifa’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has been eliminated from the competition, but Ukraine’s way has been cleared. Scotland’s semi-final has been rescheduled for June.
We take a look at each country’s World Cup history and what they need to accomplish to join Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, and Switzerland in the world’s most prestigious football tournament.
Path A: Will England be joined at the World Cup by another home nation?
Third place (1954), fourth place (1934), second round (1978, 1982), group stage (1978, 1982). (1958, 1990, 1998).
Austria will face Wales in the semi-finals in Cardiff, hoping to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
They only placed fourth in their World Cup qualifying group (together with Scotland), but they are one of two nations to qualify for the play-offs based on their Nations League record.
Among their key players are Real Madrid defender David Alaba and ex-West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic.
Group stage record at the World Cup (1954, 1958, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1998).
Scotland, like Austria, is seeking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.
Steve Clarke’s side, who qualified for Euro 2020, finished second in Group F of World Cup qualifying, losing only to group winners Denmark.
Scotland defeated Denmark 2-0 in the final round of qualifying matches to earn a home semi-final, but if they defeat Ukraine, they will face either Wales or Austria.
Quarter-finals in the World Cup is a record (2006).
Ukraine was originally scheduled to play Scotland in a semi-final on March 24 at Hampden Park. Following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, that was clearly not an option.
On security considerations and due to a shortage of player availability, Fifa decided to postpone the game to the June international window.
Ukraine reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 last summer, losing 4-0 to England, and have since replaced their head coach, former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko, with Oleksandr Petrakov.
They went undefeated in qualifying, finishing second behind group winners France, although they only won two of their eight games, with the other six being in draws. Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who play for West Ham and Manchester City respectively in the Premier League, are regulars for them.
Quarter-finals in the World Cup is a record (1958).
Wales has only played in one World Cup final, in Sweden 64 years ago, when they lost 1-0 in the quarter-finals to eventual victors Brazil thanks to a Pele goal.
Wales finished second in qualifying Group E under Rob Page, behind Belgium, who are ranked first in Fifa’s world rankings.
A draw against Belgium in their final qualifying match at Cardiff ensured home advantage for the semi-finals, and if they defeat Austria, they will also play in the final at home either Scotland or Ukraine.
Path B – Is this Zlatan’s last opportunity, or will Lewandowski send Poland to Qatar?
World Cup record: group stage 2006, (as Czech Republic).
Czech Republic’s last appearance at a World Cup was in 2006, when they defeated the United States but lost to Ghana and Italy in the group stage and were eliminated.
They won Euro 2020 after beating Scotland and the Netherlands before falling in the quarterfinals to Denmark, but they only finished third in their World Cup qualifying group behind Belgium and Wales.
However, they qualified for the play-offs thanks to a strong showing in the Nations League. Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek of West Ham United are two of their most well-known players.
World Cup record: Third (1974, 1982), second group stage (1978), last 16 (1986), group stage (2002, 2006, 2018), first round (1938).
Poland will receive a bye to the final, where they will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic for a spot in Qatar as a result of Russia’s expulsion.
Poland will compete in their ninth World Cup and will be led by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who was named the Best Fifa Men’s Player of 2021.
In qualifying, they finished six points behind England, but they did score 30 goals in ten games, with Lewandowski scoring eight of them.
World Cup record: Runners-up (1958), third (1950, 1994), fourth (1938), quarter-finals (1934, 2018), second group stage (1974), last 16 (2002, 2006), group stage (1970, 1978, 1990).
Sweden made it to the quarter-finals four years ago in Russia, losing 2-0 to England, but they are in danger of missing out again in 2022.
They face the Czech Republic in the semi-finals at home, but they will be without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is suspended, though he will be eligible to play in the away final against Poland.
With two games remaining, Sweden was in an excellent position to qualify, but away losses to Georgia and then Spain in the deciding game put them in second place and into the play-offs.
Path C – Will Ronaldo save Portugl’sWorld Cup hopes, or will they be eliminated once more?
Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), runner-ups (1970, 1994), third (1990), fourth (1978), quarter-finals (1998), last 16 (1986, 2002), group stage (1986, 2002). (1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1974, 2010, 2014).
A World Cup without Italy, the four-time champion? It occurred in 2018 and could occur again in 2022.
Italy, who won Euro 2020 after defeating England in the final, remained unbeaten in their World Cup qualifying group, but two draws with Switzerland, as well as a home tie with Bulgaria and a 0-0 stalemate in Northern Ireland, put them in second place, with the Swiss advancing as group winners.
The play-offs will bring back bitter memories for Italians, who missed out on a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia after losing 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden over two legs in November 2017, the first time they had failed to qualify since 1958. They face a home match against North Macedonia, followed by a difficult road match either Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal or Turkey, assuming they win.
North Macedonia has never qualified for a World Cup.
North Macedonia, rated 67th in the world, faces the most difficult job of any country in the play-offs, as they face European champions Italy away from home, and if they win, they will face either Portugal or Turkey.
They have never qualified for a World Cup, although they did play in Euro 2020 thanks to their performance in the Nations League, despite finishing last in their group after losses to Austria, Ukraine, and the Netherlands.
North Macedonia, on the other hand, has demonstrated their ability to shock with a 2-1 away win in Germany in their qualifying group, a result that helped them finish second, ahead of Romania.
Third place (1966), fourth place (2006), last 16 (2010, 2018), group stage (1986, 2002, 2014).
In a dramatic fashion, Portugal missed out on automatic qualification. In their last encounter, they needed a draw against Serbia at home, but conceded an injury-time goal to lose 2-1, with Cristiano Ronaldo among those in tears after the final whistle.
Now, Portugal, which contains Premier League talents such as Manchester City’s Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, and Bernardo Silva, as well as Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Ronaldo’s Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes, will play Turkey at home and then either Italy or North Macedonia away.
Ronaldo has appeared in four World Cups, helping Portugal reach fourth in 2006 and eliminating England along the way, but at 36, this could be his final chance to compete on the world’s largest platform and earn the ultimate reward.
World Cup record: Third (2002), group stage (1954).
Turkey is attempting to qualify for the World Cup for the third time, and for the first time in 20 years, after reaching the semi-finals in 2002 and falling to eventual champions Brazil.
They must beat Portugal away to set up a home encounter against either Italy or North Macedonia. Their squad includes Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu and Inter Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu.
Turkey finished second in qualifying behind group winners the Netherlands, despite a 4-2 win over the Dutch before losing the rematch 6-1.
Who do you think will be able to complete all of these paths? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the section below: