World Cup qualifying has almost come to a close after a busy March schedule. A total of 29 nations have sealed their spot at this year’s World Cup, with only 3 spots remaining.
All that remains is the Inter-Confederation playoff finals. Eight countries still remain in contention to represent their nations on the biggest stage.
It’s exciting times for avid football fans across the globe as the Qatar World Cup draws closer. The only confederation to fulfil its slot allocation is Africa, taking up 5 of the total 32 spots. The other five organisations have nations competing in June for their chance on the biggest stage of all.
How many nations could qualify from each continent?
The number of qualifying nations qualifying from each continent was predetermined before qualifiers. A breakdown below:
Oceania (OFC) – 0.5 places (Inter-Confederation playoff)
Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) – 3.5 places (3 plus one Inter-Confederation playoff spot)
Europe (UEFA) -13 places
South America (CONMEBOL) – 4.5 places (4 plus one Inter-Confederation playoff spot)
Africa (CAF) – 5 places
Asia (AFC) – 4.5 places (4 plus one Inter-Confederation playoff spot)
So, how do the Inter-Confederation playoffs work?
There are two Inter-Confederation playoff matches to determine two of the final 3 spots. The four nations hoping to be the last qualifying nations come from four separate regions.
In Asia’s qualifiers, Australia and the UAE both finished 3rd in their respective groups. Both countries will battle it out for the chance to face the 5th placed nation from South America’s qualifying, Peru. Peru finished in 5th in South America’s qualifying group behind some of the highest ranked nations in FIFA. The South American nation has sights firmly set on a 6th appearance at the World Cup Finals. The other spot will come from UEFA’s delayed playoff game involving Wales and the winner of Ukraine/Scotland.
The first Inter-Confederation match will take place on the 13th June, with the second taking place the following day:
AFC Fourth Round Winner (Australia vs United Arab Emirates) vs Peru (CONMEBOL) – 13th June 2022
The tie between Australia and UAE will take place on the 7th June, 2022. The winner will take on Peru for a ticket to the Qatar World Cup.
Costa Rica (CONCACAF) vs New Zealand (OFC) – 14th June 2022
The confirmed nations represented at the 2022 Qatar World Cup
Inter Confederation playoff spot – New Zealand
Oceania will be the least represented continent at the World Cup. Only 0.5 spots are available for nations from Oceanic waters. The winner of Oceania’s qualifying process earns themselves a spot against Costa Rica (CONCACAF 4th place).
New Zealand, the highest ranked Oceanic nation, breezed past the Solomon Islands in the final to seal their playoff spot. The Kiwis took a 3-0 lead into the half time break, before sealing the deal with a further two goals through Bell and Garbett’s Injury time strike.
The main difference this year is the Inter-Confederation playoffs winners are determined over one game. The last two times New Zealand played in the playoffs (2014 & 2018), they played over two legs, home and away.
They’ll be praying for third time lucky, after missing out in the Inter-Confederation playoffs the last two runnings. Last time out, Peru edged past New Zealand, winning 2-0 over two legs in 2018. Mexico made lighter work of New Zealand back in 2014. Mexico tallied 9 goals whilst storming to a 9-3 aggregate win over two legs.
New Zealand take on Costa Rica in Qatar on the 14th June for a ticket to the World Cup Finals.
Qualified nations: Canada, Mexico, USA
Inter-Confederation playoff spot – Costa Rica
The CONCACAF qualifiers were closely contested, with only 3 points separating the top four. Canada booked their place at the finals before contesting the final group game. A convincing 4-0 victory, breezing past Jamaica to earn their first World Cup qualification in 36 years.
Mexico bridged the gap in their final group game to go level with Canada, but only enough to finish second. Mexico, currently ranked ninth in the overall FIFA rankings, underwhelmed throughout qualifying. Although Martino’s side secured second spot and a place at the World Cup Finals, it’ll take a rampant effort to serve it up to the World’s elite.
The final automatic spot went to the USA, finishing three points behind the leading pair. In their final group game they played against fourth placed, close rivals Costa Rica. Costa Rica came out on top in a 2-0 match thanks to two second half strikes, from Vargas and Contreras.
USA’s superior goal difference meant the placings did not change, with Costa Rica finishing in behind but level on points with the United States. Costa Rica made up the 3.5 spots available for CONCACAF nations, earning an Inter-Confederation playoff spot against the Kiwis.
The CONCACAF qualifiers proved competitive until the final gameweeks. Canada grinding out the wins over USA and Mexico proved the difference in the group’s final standings.
Qualified group winners: Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Croatia, England, Germany
Playoff winners: Poland, Portugal, Wales/Scotland/Ukraine
Nations from UEFA (European) take up the largest percentage of World Cup spots, with a total of 13 available. The top 10 ranked nations worldwide contain seven European countries, playing under UEFA.
As well as this, each of the past four world cups has been won by a European nation; Italy, Spain, Germany, France (In order of oldest to most recent). So I guess UEFA’s final allocations are more than fair!
The 10 group winners earned World Cup qualification. The remaining 3 places were contested by 12 nations in the playoffs. The ten group runner ups were joined by the top two ranked Nations league countries that finished out of their groups top two. These nations were Austria and Czech Republic.
The countries in bold topped their group, earning automatic qualification. The nations in italics enter the playoff round, competing for the final 3 spaces.
Group A: Serbia, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
Group B: Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
Group C: Switzerland, Italy, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania
Group D: France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia
Group E: Belgium, Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia
Group F: Denmark, Scotland, Austria, Israel, Faroe Islands, Moldova
Group G: Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia, Gibraltar
Group H: Croatia, Russia*, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta
Group I: England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino
Group J: Germany, North Macedonia, Romania, Iceland, Armenia
The qualifying nations were seeded and drawn into three brackets. Each bracket involves four nations, playing in a semi final and a final format. Czech Republic and Austria entered the playoffs unseeded. The draw was as follows;
Path A: Scotland vs Ukraine
Wales vs Austria
Path B: Poland vs Russia (Disqualified)
Sweden vs Czech Republic
Path C: Portugal vs Turkey
North Macedonia vs Italy
Wales edged past Austria thanks to some brilliance from Gareth Bale. Bale put Wales ahead on the 25th minute mark with a ridiculous 25 yard free kick. Bale has struggled at club side Real Madrid this season, only appearing on seven occasions due to injury issues and Coronavirus. The Welshman reminded the World of his undoubted ability, dragging Wales into the playoff final and a chance at their first World Cup in 64 years.
Due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine, the game against Scotland has yet to be played. UEFA recently confirmed the game will go ahead on June 1st at Hampden Park. The winners will take on Wales just four days later, on June 5th.
Poland received a bye into the playoff final after Russia’s disqualification. FIFA announced Russia’s ban on the 28th February and later announced Poland’s bye into the final on March 8th.
Each of Russia’s group opponents took a firm stance in refusing to play any matches against Russia following the invasion.
Sweden faced off with Czech Republic in the other Path B Semi-Final. In a closely fought 0-0 contest, Sweden finally found the scoresheet in extra time to take the win. In the Path B playoff final, Poland proved too much for Sweden. Poland’s talisman Lewandoski put his side ahead on the 49th minute mark before Zielinski sealed the deal in the 72nd.
North Macedonia caused a huge upset in the last bracket of UEFA playoff qualifying. North Macedonia, currently ranked 62 in FIFA rankings, knocked out 6th ranked Italy in the playoff semi final. The game stayed level at 0-0 up until Injury time when North Macedonia caused the major shock of World Cup qualifying.
Italy have suffered a steady decline on the World stage after their success in 06. Albeit current European champions, the Azzurri have failed to qualify for the last two World Cups. The Italians also haven’t made it past the group stages since 2006.
North Macedonia met Portugal in the playoff final after the Portuguese defeated Turkey 3-1. The Portuguese proved their class, winning the game 2-0 with a brace from Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes.
Qualified nations: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador
Inter-Confederation playoff spot: Peru
A total of four automatic qualifying spots are up for grabs for nations under CONMEBOL. In addition, one playoff spot is also up for contention. Brazil, our current outright favourites at 5.00 topped the group on an impressive 45 points.
Brazil are currently the highest ranked nation in World football and head to Qatar in seriously impressive form. In Brazil’s qualifying campaign, they remained undefeated, winning 14 out of their 17 games. Impressively, Tite’s side scored 40 goals and only conceded a mere 5 goals throughout.
Behind Brazil came Lionel Messi’s Argentina, who also remained undefeated through qualifying. Both nations showed their levels above the rest of competing nations. The second and third placed sides were separated by 11 points. Messi has hinted at retirement following the 2022 World Cup. For Messi to capture his first World Cup after narrowly missing out in 2014 would be a perfect send off for an all-time great. It was reasonably comfortable for the two top nations in CONMEBOL, but it remained competitive for the remaining places. Only four points separated third to sixth over 18 gameweeks.
Uruguay finished in third behind the runaway leaders. Uruguay confirmed their place at the World Cup in their penultimate qualifying march after defeating Peru 1-0 on home soil. Although Colombia lost their penultimate group game, other results meant they also could not be overtaken. Colombia’s place was confirmed.
The four automatic spots were confirmed before the final gameweek, but the qualifying spot was still yet to be determined. Peru just needed to win or match Colombia’s result to confirm their 5th place. The Peruvians managed to keep their cool and show composure, brushing Paraguay to one side with a 2-0 victory. Peru will face off with the winner of Australia vs UAE with sights on their second World Cup appearance in succession.
CAF (Confederation of African Football)
Qualified nations: Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Cameron
The second round of CAF qualifying involves the 14 winners from the first round and the top 26 ranked African nations. Nations were then drawn based on seedings and placed into ten groups of four.
After six rounds of fixtures, each nation playing their group opponents home and away, the group leaders qualify for round 3. The third and final round of CAF qualifying involved home and away playoffs, with the draw based on FIFA rankings. The eventual five winners over home and away ties gain qualification to the 2022 World Cup.
The first round of ties took place on the 25th March with the second leg following four days later, on the 29th.
Out of the ten nations to make it to round three, only one nation fell outside of the top 10 based on 2019 CAF FIFA rankings. The 2019 FIFA rankings were used to determine which 26 nations received a bye into the second round of qualifying. Ivory Coast, ranked tenth at the time, were the only top 10 nation to fall short. Ivory Coast narrowly missed out to Cameron in round two, falling two points short. Mali, the 11th ranked nation joined the top nine African nations in round three after dominating Group E.
Round three was drawn on the 22nd January, seeded based on FIFA rankings. The remaining ten nations were drawn into five home and away ties, with the five winners securing their place at the World Cup. Away goals apply.
Round Three Results
|Egypt vs Senegal||1-0||0-1 (1-3 on pens)||Senegal win on pens|
|Cameroon vs Algeria||0-1||2-1 (after extra time)||Cameroon win on away goals|
|Ghana vs Nigeria||0-0||1-1||Ghana win on away goals|
|DR Congo vs Morocco||1-1||1-4||Morocco win|
|Mali vs Tunisia||0-1||0-0||Tunisia win|
Four out of the five round three games were highly competitive with no more than one goal separating the sides over two legs. Morocco were the biggest winners in Round three, dispatching DR Congo 4-1 in the second leg to take it to 5-2 overall. Tunisia narrowly edged past Mali after their 1-0 away win in the first leg proving enough.
The remaining three games could’ve gone either way. Nigerian fans will feel hard done by after Ghana needed the away goals rule to make it to the World Cup after a 1-1 draw away from home. Cameroon also made it through taking full advantage of the away goals rule. The second leg finished 1-0 to Cameroon, taking it into extra time where two late dramatic goals saw Cameroon finish on top.
The main talking point of the CAF round three qualifiers was the second match up this year between AFCON finalists, Senegal and Egypt. There was no separating the sides in February and these games proved no different. Penalties had to separate the sides for a second time with Senegal coming out on top after a controversial shoot out featuring laser pens.
It wasn’t to be for Mo Salah’s Egypt who will be having nightmares about this Senegal side. Senegal have prevented Egypt from having the most successful few months in their history.
AFC (Asian Football Confederation)
Qualified nations: Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan
Playoff qualifier: Australia vs United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The AFC qualifying campaign began with the nations ranked 35-46 playing home and away legs, with the winners progressing into round 2. The six eventual winners would then be joined by the top 34 ranked nations within the Asian Football Confederation to form 8 groups of 5.
The eight group winners earned themselves a spot into the third round of qualifying as well as the four best runners up, to form the final 12 nations. The third round of qualifying, consisting of two groups of 6 kicked off on the 2nd September, 2021. The home and away, round robin fixtures continued until 29th March, 2022.
A total of 4.5 spaces were up for contention, with four automatic spots and a place in the inter-confederation play off all to play for.
Group A was all about the top two spots, South Korea and Iran. Both nations stormed clear ahead of the rest showing a huge gulf in quality to confirm their spots at Qatar. Iran topped the group on an impressive 25 points with closest Rivals South Korea sitting 2 points behind.
Both nations secured their spots with games to play. Impressively, Iran qualified back in January with a 1-0 home victory over neighbours Iraq. The win sparked huge celebrations amongst the crowd and into the streets post match. South Korea followed suit just 5 days later, securing a top two finish with a 2-0 win over Syria.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) finished the group strongest out of those nations behind the group leaders. UAE won 3 out of their last 5 games to secure third place and a spot in the playoff game against Group B’s third place.
Group B remained open. Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia continued to battle it out for the automatic qualifying spots until the final group games in March. Australia had an uphill task heading into the final group games but faced group leaders Saudi Arabia and Japan in their final games. The Wallabies had a great chance to take points off the leading nations, sitting 3 points off second placed Japan and 4 off leaders Saudi Arabia.
Australia did not capitalise. The Aussies lost 2-0 on home turf at the hands of Japan, in front of a packed out crowd. This was the first time that Australia had lost a live World Cup qualifier on home soil in 40 years. Although, Australia were playing under the OFC alongside lower ranked sides before 2006.
Australia’s Defeat to Japan settled the final top two placings as Saudi Arabia and Japan. Saudi Arabia edged past Australia in their final group to take top spot after Japan could only manage a draw at home to Vietnam. Australia were confirmed third place prior to the final game.
Australia and the UAE will face each other on the 7th June 2022. The winner will head into the Inter-Confederation playoff match against Peru (13th June, 2022).
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