World Cup State of Play: Spain and Portugal face a fierce battle, Uruguay and Ivory Coast could miss out altogether… but England SHOULD be fine despite their slip up last time out
- The qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is now heating up
- Qatar, Germany and Denmark have already secured a spot in the tournament
- A total of 32 teams will compete in the first-ever winter edition of the cup
- But there are a number of high-profile teams in danger of missing out
The qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, particularly for the European teams, are now reaching the business end.
It was only a matter of months ago that hearts of a nation were broken as England fell to a penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the final of the European Championship at Wembley.
The focus is now firmly on the Qatar World Cup, which will be the first-ever winter edition of the historic tournament to avoid the country’s debilitating summer heat.
It officially gets underway in just over a year’s time in November 2022, and qualification stages across the globe are now creeping towards an enticing crescendo, with Germany and Denmark – and hosts Qatar – the first nations worldwide to book a spot in the competition.
England suffered a disappointing home draw against Hungary last time out, but they should still qualify as group winners. Meanwhile, the likes of Spain, Portugal and Italy are still fighting to secure qualification.
It’s not just those in Europe vying for an all-important plane ticket to Qatar, with Uruguay trailing Brazil and Argentina in the battle of the South Americans, while Senegal and Morocco are the only nations to secure a place in the African play-offs, which takes place next march.
Sportsmail takes you through the qualification processes across the globe, which nations could find themselves in a spot of bother, and the key clashes to look out for.
The 2022 World Cup, which will be the first-ever winter tournament, will be held in Qatar
Gareth Southgate’s England face Albania and San Marino in their remaining qualifiers
Just three nations have officially confirmed their spot in the 2022 World Cup, of course one being Qatar.
Having controversially won the bid to host the tournament, Qatar automatically qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time in their history.
Germany have been one of the more impressive outfits throughout qualifying, though not competing against the best opposition, and they officially booked their spot in the tournament as they breezed past North Macedonia 4-0 in the previous international break.
Hans-Dieter Flick’s Germany became the first nation to officially qualify for the World Cup
Denmark have also qualified for the World Cup, still to concede a goal in their eight games
Now under the guidance of Hansi Flick, Germany have won seven of their eight qualifiers, losing only in their home tie against North Macedonia.
Germany were swiftly followed by Denmark, who have somewhat gone under the radar throughout the qualifiers.
They booked their spot in the tournament as they beat Austria 1-0. It means they have won all eight of their qualifiers without conceding a single goal.
Who is in danger of missing out from Europe?
Looking first at Europe, perhaps the only team with a bit of breathing space, other than those who have qualified, is Belgium, who are five points clear at the top of Group E.
As stated, it’s only the winners of each group who will automatically progress to the World Cup, with the runners-up going into a play-off round. And currently, none of Portugal, Spain or Croatia are top of their respective groups.
Group A: Portugal and Serbia go head-to-head
Portugal were undoubtedly the favourites to progress from Group A but they find themselves in a genuine battle for automatic qualification.
They will finish second at worst, sat 10 points above Luxembourg in third with just two games to play. But it’s currently Serbia who top the group, albeit having played a game more.
Cristiano Ronaldo is doing his part to help Portugal’s cause, having scored six goals in his five appearances, including notching his 10th international hat-trick in their most recent 5-0 win over Luxembourg.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored six goals in five matches with Portugal sat second in Group A
But it’s Group A rivals Serbia who currently lead the way having won five of their seven games
It’s in their final two fixtures where Ronaldo will have to perform, with crucial qualifiers against Ireland away and finally a mouth-watering home tie against Serbia on November 11 and 14 respectively.
Should Portugal overcome the challenge of the Republic of Ireland, who are already out of the equation, they will top the group going into the final encounter against Serbia, who have just one match to play.
A draw would then be enough for Ronaldo’s side, which would also be the case should they only share the points against the Republic of Ireland. But if they lose, nothing less than a win against Serbia will do.
Put simply, regardless of the outcome of their clash against the Republic of Ireland, it will all come down to their tie against Serbia on Sunday.
- Azerbaijan vs Luxembourg (November 11)
- Republic of Ireland vs Portugal (November 11)
- Luxembourg vs Republic of Ireland (November 14)
- Portugal vs Serbia (November 14)
Group B: Spain and Sweden battle for qualification
Spain were also the hot favourites to prevail but they find themselves in serious trouble heading into the final two fixtures of Group B.
It’s currently Sweden who lead the way, having won all but one of their six games, including a 2-1 victory over Spain, with their sole defeat coming against Greece.
Meanwhile, Spain have won only four of their six games, also drawing 1-1 at home to Greece, meaning they sit two points behind the group leaders.
Spain and Sweden have both played six games but it’s the latter who currently tops Group B
Spain have to win both of their remaining two fixtures to guarantee World Cup qualification
The Spaniards, who recently lost 2-1 to France in the final of the Nations League, have it all to do in the final two fixtures, first in a crucial encounter Greece.
It’s a must-win game for Luis Enrique’s side. If they lose, Sweden can clinch automatic qualification on Thursday with victory over a Georgia side who have lost five of their seven games.
With victory, Greece would move just a point behind Spain, and with a significantly easier final game at home to Kosovo, they could actually leapfrog the 2010 winners and take the eventual play-off round place.
But if Spain do win, it sets up a mouth-watering final group game against Sweden in a deciding match-up.
- Georgia vs Sweden (November 11)
- Greece vs Spain (November 11)
- Greece vs Kosovo (November 14)
- Spain vs Sweden (November 14)
Group C: Italy not over the line yet
In Group C, Euro 2020 champions Italy have not yet confirmed their participation in the 2022 World Cup.
With two games remaining, they are on level points with current runners-up Switzerland, who are behind on goal difference alone.
Both sides have won four and drawn two of their six fixtures, sharing the points in the clash in Switzerland back in September.
Italy and Switzerland are currently neck and neck in the race to top a competitive Group C
Roberto Mancini’s Italy are still in a fierce battle with Switzerland for World Cup qualification
The good news for both sides is that neither can finish below second, with Bulgaria six points behind in third having played a game more.
It will largely come down to their intense encounter on November 12, when the European champions host Switzerland.
A win would put Roberto Mancini’s side in pole position heading into their final fixture, though it’s goal difference – rather than head-to-head record – that will have the last say.
Even with a win, they would still need at least a point against Northern Ireland to guarantee their progression.
This one will go down to the wire; nothing can be decided until the final round of fixtures.
- Italy vs Switzerland (November 12)
- Northern Ireland vs Lithuania (November 12)
- Northern Ireland vs Italy (November 15)
- Switzerland vs Bulgaria (November 15)
Group D: France are nearly there
France, who as stated won the Nations League with victory over Spain, are also almost there in terms of World Cup qualification.
They can still be caught by Ukraine, Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but they are certainly the favourites to top the group with two matches to play.
That’s despite not being at their best throughout qualification, with just three wins from six, alongside three draws.
Up next for Les Bleus is a home tie against Kazakhstan, who haven’t won a game yet in their seven matches to date.
France are currently top of Group D but Ukraine, Finland and Bosnia are all in the race
France beat Spain to win the Nations League and are expected to qualify for the World Cup
A win would take them six points clear of Ukraine with a game to play and put them out of touch of both Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of the result from their match-up, meaning they’d qualify for the World Cup.
France finish their qualification group away at Finland on November 16, which could be interesting if they lose to Kazakhstan and the hosts beat Bosnia and Herzegovina three days prior.
But ultimately, that’s unlikely and France are expected to progress as group winners.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Finland (November 13)
- France vs Kazakhstan (November 13)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Ukraine (November 16)
- Finland vs France (November 16)
Group E: Wales facing potential World Cup elimination
While Belgium will most likely secure their qualification in their next outing at home to Estonia on November 13, the battle for second place remains fierce.
It’s currently the Czech Republic who hold the position of runner-up, though they have played a game more than Wales in third.
While that perhaps means advantage Wales, who next play at home to Belarus on November 13, their final outing against Belgium is a major spanner in the works.
Belgium sit top of Group E, while Czech Republic and Wales are competing for second place
Gareth Bale’s Wales are facing a genuine battle to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
Currently with a goal difference two shy of the Czech Republic, Wales’ fixture against Belarus becomes even more important.
The Czech Republic play Estonia at home in their final outing, and should Wales fall to defeat against Belgium, it could all come down to goal difference.
Wales will be hoping Belgium have already qualified by then, but it could become very, very tense regardless.
However, having won their Nations League group, they would most likely qualify for the play-offs even if they do miss out on the top two.
- Wales vs Belarus (November 13)
- Belgium vs Estonia (November 13)
- Czech Republic vs Estonia (November 16)
- Wales vs Belgium (November 16)
Group F: Scotland eyeing up second place
Group F already have a winner in Denmark, who secured their spot for the Qatar World Cup without conceding a goal.
It’s down to a two-horse race for a place as runner-up, with Scotland and Israel set to battle it out.
Scotland are certainly in the better position of the two, sat four points above Israel with two games remaining.
Denmark have been unstoppable so far in Group F, winning every game and yet to concede
Lyndon Dykes’ late winner gave Scotland a crucial win over Faroe Islands
They could secure a spot in the play-offs with a win in their penultimate fixture against Moldova, who have lost seven of their eight qualifiers to date.
Meanwhile, Israel face a trickier trip to Austria, who are facing a surprising early exit from the qualification proceedings.
Scotland won’t want the gap between themselves and Israel to decrease before their final outing against Denmark, with the latter taking on Faroe Islands at home.
- Moldova vs Scotland (November 12)
- Austria vs Israel (November 12)
- Denmark vs Faroe Islands (November 12)
- Austria vs Moldova (November 15)
- Israel vs Faroe Islands (November 15)
- Scotland vs Denmark (November 15)
Group G: Netherlands battle against Norway and Turkey
The Netherlands, and particularly Memphis Depay, have been impressive throughout the qualification process.
They have won six of their eight games, though drawing against current runners-up Norway and losing to Turkey in their opening fixture back in March.
Depay is currently the top scorer across European qualification, with a stunning nine goals and six assists in eight games.
The Netherlands lead the way but face competition from both Norway and Turkey
Memphis Depay is Europe’s top scorer throughout World Cup qualifying with nine goals
Despite their success, qualification is not yet secured, with Norway just two points behind with as many games to play.
It could be a very different picture come the final group game, with the Netherlands facing a difficult trip to Montenegro, while Norway play at home to Latvia.
Yet, the Netherlands could qualify on Saturday, should they beat Montenegro and Norway lose.
Meanwhile Turkey, who could still take second or first place, can pile the pressure on as they play Gibraltar on November 13.
Coming up on November 16 is an enticing clash between the Netherlands and Norway, which could determine who qualifies for the World Cup and who goes into the play-off round.
- Norway vs Latvia (November 13)
- Turkey vs Gibraltar (November 13)
- Montenegro vs Netherlands (November 13)
- Gibraltar vs Latvia (November 16)
- Montenegro vs Turkey (November 16)
- Netherlands vs Norway (November 16)
Group H: Croatia and Russia battling it out
Group H already has its top two confirmed, with Croatia and Russia now unable to be caught.
However, it’s the battle for top spot and an automatic qualification to the World Cup that is up for grabs with two games to play.
Croatia are currently the underdogs and could well have to negotiate their way through the play-off round if they are to make Qatar.
Russia and Croatia are the runaway leaders in Group H, with Malta and Cyprus down and out
Croatia fell behind in the race for top spot in Group H as they drew 2-2 with Slovakia
Russia, who have won six of their eight games, will almost certainly win once more in their next outing against Cyprus, who have just one win to their name so far.
Croatia should overcome the challenge of Malta away, though it’s less guaranteed. Assuming Russia win, Croatia must match their rival’s result to stay alive in the race.
Should that be the case, the tie between the pair on November 14 becomes a mouth-watering affair.
- Russia vs Cyprus (November 11)
- Malta vs Croatia (November 11)
- Slovakia vs Slovenia (November 11)
- Croatia vs Russia (November 14)
- Malta vs Slovakia (November 14)
- Slovenia vs Cyprus (November 14)
Group I: England still have work to do after Hungary draw
Despite their disappointing home draw against Hungary, England remain top of Group I
Harry Kane was substituted off as England gave themselves more work to do in a poor display
Group I is reaching a fascinating conclusion, with England’s disappointing draw against Hungary keeping proceedings alive.
The Three Lions could have guaranteed at least a top-two finish and moved five points ahead of current runners-up Poland with a win, but they were made to settle for a 1-1 draw.
And it’s now all pressure on, with Poland likely to win their next outing away at Andorra, who have lost six of their eight Group I fixtures.
England, meanwhile, take on Albania at home on November 12 in what could prove a telling fixture.
Of course, it’s a game England should win, and so is their final fixture against San Marino away, so even any marginal thoughts England won’t qualify are at this point premature.
But even so, Albania will know that a runner-up spot is still very much possible and will not make it easy for Gareth Southgate’s side.
To guarantee a spot in the World Cup, England need four points from their remaining two games.
- Andorra vs Poland (November 12)
- England vs Albania (November 12)
- Hungary vs San Marino (November 12)
- Albania vs Andorra (November 15)
- Poland vs Hungary (November 15)
- San Marino vs England (November 15)
Group J: A four-way battle awaits
Germany have already secured qualification as Group J winners, having won seven of their eight games.
It now comes down to the quartet of Romania, North Macedonia, Armenia and Iceland to decide who will finish second.
It’s a position entirely up for grabs, though it’s Romania currently in second and in pole position as things stand.
Germany have already cemented their place in the 2022 World Cup with seven wins from eight
Romania currently occupy second place in Group J with Germany taking top spot
They square off in an intriguing clash at home Iceland on November 11 in a fixture that will determine whether the visitors can remain in the race going into the final game.
Should they come through the match-up, they will likely take second place with a very winnable game against Liechtenstein to finish the group.
North Macedonia and Armenia are also harnessing hopes of their own, with an exciting game between the pair taking place on November 11.
- Armenia vs North Macedonia (November 11)
- Germany vs Liechtenstein (November 11)
- Romania vs Iceland (November 11)
- Armenia vs Germany (November 14)
- Liechtenstein vs Romania (November 14)
- North Macedonia vs Iceland (November 14)
What about outside of Europe?
Of course, it’s not just those from Europe vying for a place in the 2022 World Cup, with a plethora of high-profile nations worldwide in the midst of a qualification battle.
Starting with South America, it’s looking pretty safe for both Brazil and Argentina as things stand; they are first and second respectively in the 10-nation table, both with a game in hand.
Argentina are eight points clear of their closest rivals Ecuador, while Brazil are 14 points ahead.
As mentioned above, it’s the top four who will qualify for the World Cup, with the team in fifth going into the inter-confederation play-off. As it stands, that would be Uruguay, who have won just four of their 12 matches to date.
Just in front of them in fourth is Colombia, who are only three points ahead of Chile in sixth and face the proposition of failing to qualify for the World Cup.
Brazil are currently top of the table among the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers
Moving on to Africa, Morocco and Senegal are the first and only teams to officially progress to next March’s play-off round, with the other eight groups still up for grabs.
The winner of each group progresses to the next round, with the remaining three teams eliminated from the competition.
With that said, Algeria still have their work cut out, level with Burkina Faso on 10 points with two games to play.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast are just a point ahead of Cameroon, while South Africa and Ghana are just a point apart in their group.
As for Asia, there are two groups of six teams competing, with the winners and runners-up of each to qualify for Qatar.
Group A: Iran, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
Group B: Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, Oman, Vietnam
Iran currently lead Group A with South Korea in second, while Saudi Arabia are top of Group B with Australia three points behind.
There will be a total of 14 matches played by each team to determine the CONCACAF nations who progress, with the top three qualifying and the fourth-placed side going to the inter-confederation play-off.
The top four are currently Mexico, USA, Canada and Panama after six games.
When does the World Cup start and how will it work?
The World Cup will take place between November 21 and December 18 next year with a total of 32 teams – initially split into eight groups of four – competing for the grand prize.
The group stages will begin on November 21 and will run for 12 days, with four matches being played on each.
Typically, the top two teams from each group will progress to the round of 16. There won’t be any third-place teams progressing to the knockouts, as we saw at Euro 2020 this summer.
In another difference to Euro 2020, there also won’t be a third-place play-off taking place at the World Cup.
The group stages will come to an end on December 2, with the round of 16 then played from December 3-6.
The quarter-finals will then take place from December 9-10, before the semi-finals are played on December 13 and 14.
The final of the 2022 World Cup will take place on Sunday, December 18.
HOW DOES QUALIFYING WORK?
A total of 32 teams will compete in the first-ever winter edition of the World Cup, comprising from six confederations: AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North, Central America and Caribbean), CONEMBOL (South America), UEFA (Europe) and OFC (Oceania).
Europe will have the most representatives with 13, while five teams from Africa will qualify. Meanwhile, there will be either four or five teams from both South America and Asia.
There will also be either three or four CONCACAF teams, while OFC could have either one representative or potentially none.
The reason the totals are not entirely known yet is that an inter-confederation play-off will be contested at the end of the global qualification process – and this is what will determine how many teams from each confederation make it to the final 32.
Two places will be up for grabs, with the four teams (one from each of Asia, South America, CONCACAF and Oceania) drawn into a two-legged tie, taking place in June 2022.
Even within each confederation, the qualification process is quite complicated.
A total of 55 teams are competing for the 13 spots up for grabs from Europe. There are 10 groups, with the winners of each automatically qualifying for the World Cup.
The 10 runners-up will be joined by the two highest-ranked teams from the Nations League who have not already qualified or finished in second in their respective World Cup group.
The 12 countries will then be split into three groups of four, whereby two one-off knockout rounds – being a semi-final and final – will take place in each, all in March 2022, to determine the side that qualifies.
Moving onto Africa, which is slightly more straightforward. There are 10 qualifying groups currently underway, with the winners going into a play-off round next March. Five winners will emerge and they will then be on their way to Qatar.
As stated, there will either be four or five South American teams playing in the 2022 World Cup. There are 10 nations competing for a spot, who all play each other home and away throughout the qualifiers.
The top four in the final table will qualify for the World Cup, while the fifth-placed team will then go into the inter-confederation play-off.
Neymar’s Brazil sit top of the 10-nation table and are on course for the World Cup
Sitting behind the five-time World Cup winners are Lionel Messi’s Argentina side
North, Central American and Caribbean
CONCACAF (North, Central America and Caribbean) will have either three of four representatives at the World Cup.
Two of three qualifying rounds have already been completed, in which nations ranked 6-35 in the FIFA World Ranking were split into six groups of five, before the winners progressed into a two-legged play-off.
El Savador, Canada and Panama emerged victorious and now join those ranked 1-5, being Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and United States. Each of the eight teams will play the others home and away, with the top three progressing to the World Cup, while the team that finishes in fourth will go into the inter-confederation play-off.
After two qualification rounds, 12 nations emerged and were drawn into two groups of six teams. The group stage will be completed in March next year, with the winners and runners-up progressing to the World Cup.
The two teams finishing in third will progress to a play-off, with the winner then handed a second chance in the inter-confederation play-off.
There are 11 FIFA-affiliated nations, all of which are competing. They have been be split into two groups, with the top two nations in each advancing to the next round.
They will then play a two-legged semi-final and finally a final, with the winning team going through to the inter-confederation play-off.
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