Breaking News: Either Italy or Portugal Won't Reach World Cup
The November international break saw the Group Stage of the European 2022 World Cup qualifiers conclude after eight months of competitive football. Fifty-five teams were drawn into ten groups playing round-robin home and away matches to determine the top ten teams and the top ten runners-up. The winning team from each qualifying group - Belgium, Denmark, England, Croatia, France, Germany, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and Netherlands - advance directly to Qatar next November for the 2022 tournament. The second-placed team from each group - Italy, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and Wales - must fight once again in a playoff tournament in March for one of three remaining slots. Europe was awarded thirteen places at the upcoming World Cup.
The ten runner-up teams, plus two of the highest-ranked Nations League 2020/21 squads (Austria and the Czech Republic), who complete the twelve-team line-up, face some tough competition at the playoffs if they want to win the coveted tickets to Qatar next year. However, the six best-ranked runners-up from the Group Stage have an advantage; they have been seeded and will play at home for the first leg of the playoff tournament. The bottom four squads from the Group Stage, plus the two best Nations League teams, are unseeded and will play away against their seeded rivals. So, top European teams like Italy and Portugal won't face one another; they will fight against lower-ranked teams like Russia and Turkey.
The draw to find out who will face who in the March playoffs was held recently at the FIFA Headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
The six top seeded teams were drawn into Pot 1, for the draw; the six bottom unseeded teams into Pot 2.
During the random draw, the squads drawn from Pot 1 were placed in turn into semi-final home slots, 1 to 6. So, the first drawn seeded team was put into Semi-Final Match 1, the second into Semi-Final Match 2, and so on.
To face their seeded opponent, the unseeded squads drawn from Pot 2 were also placed, in turn, into semi-final away slots, 1-6.
The results paired the following teams for the upcoming playoffs semi-final matches:
|Semi-Final Pairing||Seeded Team||Unseeded Team|
|Semi-final 1||Seeded TeamScotland||Unseeded TeamUkraine|
|Semi-final 2||Seeded TeamWales||Unseeded TeamAustria|
|Semi-final 3||Seeded TeamRussia||Unseeded TeamPoland|
|Semi-final 4||Seeded TeamSweden||Unseeded TeamCzech Republic|
|Semi-final 5||Seeded TeamItaly||Unseeded TeamNorth Macedonia|
|Semi-final 6||Seeded TeamPortugal||Unseeded TeamTurkey|
The six semi-final matches are drawn into playoff paths A, B and C for the tournament. Semi-Final matches 1 and 2 makeup Playoff Path A. Semi-Final’s 3 and 4 are allocated to Playoff Path B and Semi-Final’s 5 and 6 to Playoff Path C.
The playoff competition is scheduled for March 24th (semi-finals) and 29th (finals), 2022.
Each of the three tournament Playoff Paths contains four teams. Each path will consist of two single-leg semi-finals, the winners of which will advance to a single-leg final.
An additional draw, after the semi-finals, will determine which squad has the home advantage in their 'path' final.
The winner of the final in each playoff path will qualify for the World Cup alongside the early Group Stage winners.
The draw results have placed Italy and Portugal, the top two teams of the twelve contenders and ranked 6th and 8th in the world, in the same playoff path, Path C. Whether they win or lose their semi-final matches against North Macedonia and Turkey, respectively, only one of the two nations can make it all the way to the 2022 World Cup.
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