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World Cup 2022 qualifying: Predicting who will make it to Qatar


In November, 32 national teams will converge on Qatar for the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup.

To date, 15 teams have rubber-stamped a place at the tournament and, by the end of March, 14 more nations will have qualified for Qatar.

Here's a guide, looking at all six of FIFA's confederations, assessing which teams will make it and which traditional heavyweights could yet miss out.

The draw for the final tournament takes place on April 1 - 11:00 (ET), 16:00 (UK), 19:00 (local, Qatar).

Europe

Ten European nations have already qualified for World Cup 2022 automatically as group winners. They are: Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Croatia, England and Germany.

Three more places are available for UEFA teams, all of which were supposed to be decided in this month's play-offs.

However, given that Russia and Ukraine were in these play-offs, the former's invasion of the latter has plunged these fixtures into chaos.

Europe- Path A

Path A features Ukraine who, for obvious reasons, are unable to fulfil their fixtures just now.

So, their semi-final against Scotland at Hampden will take place in June, as will the subsequent final in this path; dates TBC.

The other semi-final is going ahead as planned with Wales welcoming Austria to the Cardiff City Stadium.

The Dragons are looking to reach a first World Cup since 1958 while Das Team last appeared at the tournament in 1998.

The two met in World Cup 2018 qualifying, drawing 2-2 in Vienna before a 1-0 Welsh win in the reverse fixture.

In all, Wales have only lost just two of their last 23 competitive home games with only Denmark and Ireland beating them in Cardiff since September 2013.

Given this, Rob Page's side will fancy their chances of getting through, even if it won't be easy.

Europe- Path B

Path B was supposed to contain Russia, but their national team has rightly been thrown out of World Cup qualifying following the invasion of Ukraine.

So, their prospective opponents Poland receive a bye through to the final which they will host at Stadion Śląski on 29 March.

The other semi-final is going ahead as planned with Sweden welcoming Czech Republic to the Friends Arena.

The Czechs reached the quarter-finals of last year's Euros, but only got into these play-offs via their UEFA Nations League performance.

Sweden meanwhile beat Spain in Solna just last September and have only lost three of their last 23 competitive home games.

The only teams to beat them in Stockholm since September 2015 are France, Portugal and Turkey, meaning Sweden will be confident of reaching the final.

Europe- Path C

Path C is the epitome of 'last but by no means least'.

On Thursday, Italy welcome North Macedonia to Palermo while, simultaneously, Turkey take on Portugal in Porto.

With all due respect to the two away sides, especially Turkey, it's the potential for a heavyweight final that everybody is hoping for.

In all likelihood, the last two European Champions will meet on Tuesday 29 March at Estádio do Dragão with a place at the World Cup on the line.

Italy lost in the play-offs for Russia 2018, missing a first World Cup for 60 years before, of course, winning the Euros just last summer.

Portugal meanwhile won the Euros in 2016 and then the UEFA Nations League in 2019 and have qualified for all five World Cups this century.

But, at least one of these two global powerhouses will be absent in Qatar.

Portugal lost to Serbia in Lisbon in November but, overall, they've lost just three of 40 competitive home games since September 2008.

This includes a 1-0 victory over Italy four years ago and, with home advantage, Fernando Santos' side may well be favourites to qualify.

South America

South American World Cup qualifying sees all ten CONMEBOL members play each-other home and away in a round-robin format.

With two matchdays to go, the big two, Brazil and Argentina, have sown up first and second; Seleção remain the only team to qualify for all 22 World Cups.

At the bottom, Venezuela and Paraguay have mathematically been eliminated while Bolivia are all but out of the running.

But, the other five nations still have everything to play for this week.

Ecuador are the surprise team in third and they just need to beat Paraguay in Ciudad del Este on Thursday to secure a top four finish.

This leaves four teams fighting for just one guaranteed qualification spot and the inter-confederation play-off place, awarded to fifth.

Colombia are in serious danger of missing out as they're four points behind the dotted line, but do have Bolivia (H) and Venezuela (A) remaining.

The key head-to-head match-ups are Uruguay v Peru on Thursday and then Chile v Uruguay on Tuesday on the 18th and final matchday.

As ever, CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is set for a dramatic, nervy and unmissable conclusion.

Africa

Ten of Africa's finest still stand in World Cup qualifying with 44, notably Côte d'Ivoire, having been eliminated.

With just five spots at the World Cup available to CAF nations, the ten second-round survivors now face a two-legged play-off.

The first legs take place on Friday 25 March with the second legs four days later on Tuesday.

The most eye-catching tie is Egypt vs Senegal who will meet just 46 days after going head-to-head in Yaoundé in the Africa Cup of Nations Final.

That night, it finished goalless before Senegal won the subsequent penalty shootout, lifting the trophy for the very first time.

Elsewhere, there are two other heavyweight clashes with Algeria facing Cameroon as well as a West African derby with Ghana meeting Cameroon.

Tunisia have drawn Mali while DR Congo, who didn't even qualify for this year's AFCON, will meet Morocco.

As was highlighted at AFCON 2021, the quality of African football is very high, ensuring these ties are incredibly tough to call.

North, Central America and the Caribbean

The biggest underdog story anywhere on earth from this cycle of World Cup qualifiers can be found in the CONCACAF region.

Canada have only ever qualified for one World Cup before, Mexico '86, at which they lost all three games and scored zero goals.

However, right now, the Canucks are unbeaten in World Cup qualifying, winning 13 of 17 matches, and are top of the octagonal table.

This includes home wins over both Mexico and USA, beating el Tri 2-1 in November and the U.S. 2-0 just last January.

Despite not being able to beat the run-away leaders, both Mexico and USA are likely to join them in Qatar as they currently sit second and third.

This'll be a great relief for the United States who catastrophically missed Russia 2018, while Mexico haven't failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1982.

Just below, there's a two-horse race on to take the inter-confederation play-off spot.

Panama are currently one point above Costa Rica with three matches to play; El Salvador, Jamaica and Honduras are out the running.

Los Canaleros still have to play Honduras (H), United States (A) and then Canada (H) as they look to cling onto four place.

Asia- Group A

Group A of Asian qualifying had two clear favourites when the draw was made and that is exactly how it's panned out.

Iran and Korea Republic both rubber stamped their places in Qatar back in January, meaning their meeting in Seoul on Thursday is of little importance.

The side who comes third goes into a play-off with the corresponding team from Group B and United Arab Emirates are in pole position to take that.

If the U.A.E. beat Iraq in Riyāḍh on matchday nine, they could wrap up third spot before welcoming South Korea to Dubai on Tuesday.

Asia- Group B

Over in Group B, with the bottom three all mathematically eliminated, it's two from three to qualify for Qatar.

Australia are currently outside the qualification places and in trouble, even if their destiny is in their own hands.

The Socceroos welcome Japan to Sydney on Thursday before facing group-leaders Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on the tenth and final matchday.

Both are must win for Australia because, whoever comes third, will have to win a play-off (probably against UAE) before facing a South American team in June.

For Saudi Arabia, they'll qualify with a win over China on Thursday, while Japan will join them with a victory at Stadium Australia simultaneously.

Oceania

To say Oceanic World Cup qualification has been chaotic would be a massive understatement.

Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions in that corner of the globe, teams could not host matches, meaning they have all converged on Qatar this month.

However, three teams withdrew before qualification had even began; Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa.

Since the big kick off, Covid-19 outbreaks have ended the hopes of the Cook Islands and Vanuatu and they've both also pulled out.

OFC's dominant force New Zealand are still very much in contention, beating Papua New Guinea 1-0 in their group opener on Friday.

Only 0.5 places are available to OFC nations, so the tournament winner earns a spot in the inter-confederation play-offs.

To get there again, the All Whites will need to come through their group before winning a semi-final and final, the latter scheduled for 30 March.

Inter-confederation play-offs

In total, 855 matches will be played in 2022 World Cup qualifying, the final two of which will be in the inter-confederation play-offs in June.

These are usually two-legged, home and away matches but, this time, they will be single-elimination ties hosted by Qatar on 13 & 14 June.

In one tie, the fourth round Asian winners will take on the South American side who finishes fifth in the table.

The identity of these two teams are currently unknown but this is not a good draw for Asia.

South American nations boasting an imperious record in these play-offs, winning six of the last seven matches, dating back to 1977.

The other tie pits the fourth-place finisher from CONCACAF up against the winners of OFC qualifying.

No nations from Oceania qualify automatically with the team from that continent winning just two of the nine intercontinental ties they’ve played.

So, the teams from North America and South America will be favourites in their respective ties, regardless of who they are.


Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".



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