The World Cup 2022 playoffs will take place over the following two weeks, with the final three European slots to be decided before the tournament in Qatar this winter.
The following days, according to Portugal coach Fernando Santos, will be the most crucial task of his time in charge.
Portugal will face Turkey in Porto on March 24, with the winner facing either Italy or North Macedonia five days later in a game that will determine one of the last three European slots at Qatar 2022, which begins in November.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a veteran Manchester United striker, has been nominated to the 25-man group that will begin training on Monday.
“It’s simple: we have to win; everything else is irrelevant,” Santos said at a press conference.
“This is the most crucial challenge I’ve faced as manager of Portugal.” The most important, not the most challenging. For the sake of our people, we must compete in the World Cup. More than a month ago, the tickets were sold out in minutes. Our fans will play a big role, and we can’t disappoint them.”
Santos led Portugal to the 2016 European Championship and the last-16 of the 2018 World Cup in Russia during his eight years in charge.
The coach is optimistic that his squad, which was relegated to the play-offs after losing their final group stage qualifier to Serbia, can advance if they maintain their composure.
“We’re caught in a cycle of drama that isn’t good for us,” Santos added.
“In the last seven games, we’ve only lost one.” There were some issues, but we just did not win a game against Serbia.
“We were disappointed, but now it’s time to focus on the positives and win again.” Talent wins games, but championships are won by teams. The players are aware of this, and they are in the appropriate frame of mind.”
Goalkeepers: Rui Patrício (Roma), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Diogo Costa (Porto).
Defenders: Cédric Soares (Arsenal), Diogo Dalot (Manchester United), João Cancelo (Manchester City), Gonçalo Inácio (Sporting Lisboa), José Fonte (Lille), Tiago Djalo (Lille), Nuno Mendes (Paris St Germain), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund).
Midfielders: Danilo (Paris Saint Germain), Rúben Neves (Wolves), William Carvalho (Betis), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), João Moutinho (Wolves), Matheus Nunes (Sporting Lisboa), Otávio (Porto), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City).
Forwards: André Silva (Leipzig), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Gonçalo Guedes (Valencia), João Félix (Atletico Madrid), Rafael Leão (Milan).
Italy overlooks Balotelli
Italy coach Roberto Mancini has omitted Mario Balotelli from the squad for the forthcoming World Cup play-offs, opting instead for 30-year-old Cagliari attacker Joao Pedro.
Balotelli, who plays in Turkey, last played for the Azzurri in 2018, although he returned during the international break in January for a training session with the squad.
Mancini, who worked with Balotelli at Inter Milan and Manchester City, was widely expected to recall the 31-year-old for the semi-final against North Macedonia on Thursday, but Brazilian-born Joao Pedro was chosen instead.
Luiz Felipe of Lazio has also been called up for the first time, while veteran centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have been included despite missing recent Juventus matches due to injuries.
After COVID-19 measures were lifted this week, Italy will host North Macedonia on March 24 at Palermo’s Stadio Barbera in front of a capacity crowd, with the winners facing either Portugal or Turkey in the playoff final for a spot at Qatar 2022.
Goalkeepers: Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris St Germain), Pierluigi Gollini (Tottenham), Salvatore Sirigu (Genoa).
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Lyon), Alessandro Florenzi (Milan), Luiz Felipe (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma).
Midfielders:Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Stefano Sensi (Sampdoria), Sandro Tonali (Milan), Marco Verratti (Paris St Germain).
Forwards:Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Joao Pedro (Cagliari), Matteo Politano (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo) Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio), Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma).
What is the procedure for the play-offs?
The two best group winners from the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League overall ranking who have neither qualified directly as group winners nor reached the play-offs as group runners-up are joined by ten group runners-up.
These 12 teams were divided into three play-off paths, each with a single semi-final and final. The top three finishers on each path advance to the World Cup.
When are the play-offs going to be held?
Scotland vs Ukraine – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off) – Postponed until June
Wales vs Austria – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)
Russia vs Poland – Thursday, March 24 (5.00pm kick-off) – Cancelled: Poland given bye
Sweden vs Czech Republic – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)
Italy vs North Macedonia – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)
Portugal vs Turkey – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)
Play-off finals: Tuesday, March 29
What is the format and timetable for the World Cup?
The World Cup in Qatar in 2022 will feature 32 teams divided into eight four-team groups.
During the group stage, four matches will be played each day over the course of 12 days, with the winners and runners-up progressing to the round of 16.
After the finals draw, matches will only be assigned to specific venues so that organizers may determine the best kick-off times for television audiences in different countries as well as supporters in Qatar.
After the March window for international fixtures closes, the finals draw will take held on Sunday, April 3.
On December 17, unlike Euro 2020, a third-place play-off game will be held.
Group stage: November 21- December 2
Round of 16: December 3-6
Quarter-finals: December 9/10
Semi-finals: December 13/14
Final: December 18
2 responses to “World Cup play-offs: Portugal to face Turkey, while Italy to face North Macedonia in the Semi-finals”
[…] was eliminated from World Cup Qualification by North Macedonia, a country rated 131st in the world by FIFA, on Thursday night at the Stadio […]
[…] Ronaldo did not score in the 3-1 victory over Turkey, but he was an essential part of Fernando Santo…. “The team has a lot of confidence, and we’re looking forward to the final,” Ronaldo continued. “Like North Macedonia, this is the game of our lives.” […]