2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Update
In just a few days, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will resume Round Two of its qualifying tournament for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. A few days after that, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) and the football confederation for North and Central American and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) will also continue their qualification competitions - Matchdays 7&8 for CONMEBOL and the final matches of Round One for CONCACAF. Each of the three confederations picks up their World Cup qualifiers after delays caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Being able to continue their qualification tournaments, which grow ever more curtailed by time and logistics skewed by COVID-19, is a blessing. However, for the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the news is not so positive - it has had to cancel the proposed June qualifier matches and reschedule to dates beginning in September 2021. For CAF teams, this is the third such cancellation in the last fourteen months.
Delays, cancellations and rescheduling due to the pandemic have become a familiar story for all six football confederations over the last year or so. Coronavirus has caused countless delays leading to a host of issues. Football calendar chaos as matches, tournaments and competition dates become concertinaed, logistical nightmares as countries lockdown and impose travel restrictions, and lost earnings. Not to mention the human cost as players, managers, coaches, and other staff have fallen ill.
In light of so much disruption and with only a year and a half to go until the World Cup kickoff, what progress has been made so far?
Of the 32 slots available at the 2022 World Cup (31 if you consider Qatar's automatic qualification as tournament hosts), 4.5 qualifying teams (four direct and one possible via the inter-confederation playoffs) will be selected from members of the AFC.
To qualify for the 4.5 slots available, 46 Asian teams are battling it out at the AFC qualifiers. Round 1 of the tournament, held in June 2019, saw twelve teams (ranked 35 - 46 in the FIFA rankings) play home and away matches over two legs to determine the six winners going forward to Round Two. The second round, which began in September 2019, sees 40 teams (those ranked 1 - 36 and the six winners from Round One), split into eight groups of five teams, play a series of home and away round-robin matches. The tournament will produce eight winners and four best runners-up who will advance to Round Three. The third round will pit two groups of six teams against each other in a round-robin of home and away matches. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the 2022 competition. The third-placed teams from each group will go head to head to decide who will go forward to the inter-confederation playoffs in June 2022.
To date, the AFC teams have suffered significant delays to their tournament. Since November 2019, only four matches have been played. Round Two's fixtures, which began during the September 2019 window, were due to restart in March 2020. However, the newly emerged pandemic saw the matches postponed to October 2020, then again to March 2021 - only to be thwarted by COVID-19 for the third time. During the intervening time, North Korea has withdrawn from the competition with coronavirus fears suspected as the cause. And, to overcome the ongoing travel and quarantine restrictions and ensure health and safety, the AFC decided to hold the outstanding Round Two matches in a single centralised location for each of the eight groups. On March 12th, the AFC announced that Bahrain, China, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates would serve as tournament hubs. So, as the second round resumes from May 28th until June 15th, both the home and away matches for each group will be held in just one country. Round Three is due to begin in September.
Looking at the standings in the competition so far, Australia, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan and Vietnam are at the top of their respective groups, with Syria, Australia, Qatar and Japan taking the strongest leads yet.
54 CAF members have signed up for their World Cup Qualifiers tournament and will be fighting for five spots at the 2022 competition. The African qualifying competition began in September 2019 and saw Round One, played over two legs, completed. The first round comprised 28 teams (ranked 27 - 54) playing home and away matches to contest which fourteen winning teams would advance to Round Two. The second round, when it begins, will see 40 teams (ranked 1 - 26 plus the 14 winners from Round One) split into ten groups of four teams to play a series of home and away round-robin matches. The ten winning teams will play against each other, home and away over two legs, for the five spots at the 2022 tournament.
Since September 2019, Round Two of the CAF qualifying tournament has been cancelled on three separate occasions due to the pandemic. The latest tournament dates to be postponed (during the June 2021 window) have been rescheduled for September, almost two years after the last Round One match. Round Two will now be contested over six matchdays during the September, October and November windows. Round Three is due to take place in March 2022.
The fourteen Round One winners advancing to Round Two (due to commence on September 1st) include Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe.
35 CONCACAF members signed up for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers competition, though St Lucia has since withdrawn. The teams are playing for 3.5 slots at the 2022 tournament (three direct and one possible via the inter-confederation playoffs), the winners determined over a three-round format.
Round One of the tournament, which began in March 2021, sees 29 teams (ranked 6 to 34) drawn into six groups to contest single round-robin matches (two home and two away). The winners of each group advance to the second round of the competition. Round Two, played over two legs of home and away matches, will determine which three of the six teams proceed to Round Three. The three winning teams will join the top five ranked CONCACAF teams in the third round to play a series of home and away round-robin matches. The top three teams from Round Three win their places at the 2022 tournament. The fourth-placed team enters the June 2022 playoffs.
The original CONCACAF qualification tournament was due to begin in September 2020 and was designed to follow a different format. However, due to COVID-related postponements and calendar changes, the structure was redesigned, and the initial round postponed until October 2020. Additional coronavirus rescheduling saw the October and November windows abandoned, and the first round moved to March 2021. All being well, Round One should be resumed over the June window. Round Two should also be played out during the June window, thanks to a two-day extension. Round Three will continue through the September, October, November 2021 and March 2022 windows - all of which have been extended from 2 days to 3 to allow the competition to be concluded by the June playoffs.
Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and St Kitts are top of their respective groups in Round One.
Contesting 4.5 slots for the 2022 World Cup (four direct and one possible via the inter-confederation playoffs), CONMEBOL’s ten teams are four matchdays into their tournament. The competition, originally due to start in March 2020 but delayed by coronavirus issues until October 2020, is organised into a series of home and away round-robin matches over eighteen matchdays. The teams play as a single group. It is the longest qualifying tournament of all six confederations.
Though amid the second wave of the COVID-virus, the first four matchdays, held over the October and November 2020 windows, went without too many virus-related issues. However, matchdays 5 and 6, scheduled to kick off during the March 2021 window, were cancelled due to the logistical headache presented by the many COVID-travel restrictions in South America and countries where international players were stationed. The cancelled dates have yet to be rescheduled. Until then, the follow-up matchdays will continue as planned, with days 7 and 8 running from June 3rd to June 9th. The competition is due to be completed by March 2022 - FIFA has approved a new window in January to help ensure the tournament finishes on time.
To date, each team has played four matches. So far, the top four teams are Brazil on 12 points, Argentina on 10 points, Ecuador, surprise performer of the competition, on 9 points and Paraguay on 6 points. Uruguay, whose tournament has been mixed, is in fifth (inter-confederation playoff) place also on 6 points.
The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) qualifiers will be contested by 11 teams (American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu) across two rounds. The teams will be playing for 0.5 slots at the 2022 World Cup - the only way to qualify for the Oceania teams is via the inter-confederation playoff in June 2022.
In Round One of the OFC tournament, the eleven teams will be drawn into two groups, based on their FIFA rankings, to play single round-robin matches to determine the top two teams from each group. In Round Two, the top four teams from Round One contest knock-out two-legged home and away matches in a semi-final and final format. The winner advances to the inter-confederation playoffs.
The tournament, originally scheduled for the March, August and October 2021 windows, is now due in January 2022.
The 55 teams of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) began their contest for 13 slots at the 2022 World Cup in March 2021. The initial Group Stage of the competition sees teams drawn into ten groups of five or six teams. Each group plays a series of home and away round-robin matches across ten matchdays to determine an outright group winner. The ten group winners qualify for the 2022 tournament. The Group Stage, which resumes in September, should be completed by November 2021. An additional round of playoffs will draw 12 teams (10 runners-up from the Group Stage and the two best Nation's League group winners that finished outside of the top two in their qualifying group) into three groups to play two rounds of single match playoffs. The three winners will take their places at the World Cup tournament in Qatar.
The Group Stage dates originally included matches held over the June 2021 window. However, due to the rescheduling of the Euro 2020 tournament to the June window (another COVID-casualty), the games were postponed. To ensure that the Group Stage qualifiers are completed, as planned, by November 2021 end, FIFA extended the March and September windows from two days to three days each. The entire qualifying competition should be completed by the end of March 2022.
To date, Armenia, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Turkey are sitting at the top of their respective groups, with France, Belgium and Denmark most comfortable in the standings. Otherwise, Russia is nipping at the heels of the Croatians, Hungary are not far behind England, Serbia, impressive in the tournament to date, are hot on the heels of the Portuguese, Sweden, with a game in hand, are chasing Spain, and the Netherlands are working hard to catch up the Turkish who beat the higher-ranked Dutch team 4-2 in their first head-to-head.
The twelve teams advancing to Round Three of the World Cup qualifying tournament and the 2023 Asian Cup have, following numerous delays, finally been decided!
South America has completed qualifying matchdays 7 and 8 and, while the top three teams remain the same, the rest of the standings have had a complete reshuffle.
World Cup qualifying triumph for Qatar as they beat Oman, finishing top of the standings for Group E to take their place at the 2023 Asian Cup tournament.
2022 World Cup hosts Qatar maintained their standing at the top of the table for Group E in the latest Asian qualifiers with a hard-won win against India.