Europe’s Top Ten Qualifying Teams Book FIFA 2022 World Cup Places
The Group Stage round of the European World Cup qualifiers competition is over, and ten group winners have secured their tickets to the 2022 tournament in Qatar. The ten group runners-up still have a chance to qualify; a playoff tournament in March 2022 will crown three additional winners from the ten to join their European counterparts at the greatest sporting event in the world - the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qatar.
Group Winners and Runners-Up
Fifty-five nations, drawn into ten groups (A-J) of five to six teams, battled across eight months to win a direct spot in Qatar. For some countries, Belgium, Denmark, England, France and Germany, qualification came early as they won the point advantage over their opponents. For others, Croatia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and Netherlands, qualification was down to the wire in final all-or-nothing matches this November break.
Battles also raged within each group to secure second place and a runners-up chance to qualify for the last three spots available to European teams. Some of the teams, Scotland, Poland, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Wales, who doggedly secured their playoff places, are no doubt delighted to keep their qualification dreams alive. The second chance is bittersweet for other squads, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, and Turkey, who were locked in a battle for the top spot and direct qualification down to the wire.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the winners and runners-up from each qualification group and how their performances over the November break helped pave their road to Qatar…
GROUP A - Serbia and Portugal
Serbia began the November break in first place on 17 points, one point clear of Portugal, who had a game in hand. Unfortunately for Portugal, a goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland earned them just a single point. The draw ensured that Serbia and Portugal were level going into their final head-to-head together on November 14th.
Portugal's match against the Irish started well enough, with the visitors holding onto the majority of possession. However, backed by the home crowd and on the back of a four-match unbeaten run, The Boys in Green settled into their game, moving and passing with confidence and working hard to keep Portugal star Ronaldo quiet. Despite both teams coming close to scoring on several occasions, clear cut chances were few and far between. And, in a match lacking in creativity, Portugal were lucky not to lose the game as the Irish pressed for victory.
On the 14th, Portugal needed only a draw in the tournament's final match; Serbia needed a win to qualify. Portugal took an early lead with a strike from Renato Sanches in the 2nd minute of the game. Dusan Tadic cancelled out the Seleção's lead in the 33rd after Portugal's keeper spilled the save and the ball crept over the line. While a draw looked possible, a dramatic late header by substitute Alexsandar Mitrovic stole the qualification ticket from under Portugal's nose. Portugal, whose unbroken run of home wins at World Cup qualifiers had stretched back to October 2013, now face the playoffs.
GROUP B - Spain and Sweden
Spain, who lost just one match during the third round of the qualifiers, began the window two points behind the Swedes in second place. However, after successfully winning against Greece 1-0, while Sweden lost out to Georgia, they soon regained the top spot. Going into the final game against Sweden, Spain led by one point and needed a draw to book their place in Qatar.
Sweden's shock 2-0 loss to Greece was wholly unexpected. Despite Sweden's dominance on the ball, a slip up by goalkeeper Robin Olsen let Georgia's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia ram home a rebound in the 61st minute. Kvaratshkhelia picked up the ball again in the 77th and, following a poor tackle by Swedish defender Victor Lindelof, slid another to the back of the net to take the win.
To recover and qualify, Sweden needed a win against Spain in their final match, but, backed by a sold-out home crowd, La Roja, who have never lost a home qualifier, took the win with a single late goal. Though Sweden created better chances, it was Spain's Alvaro Morata, on as a substitute, who sealed the win. A long-range shot, tipped onto the crossbar by Olsen, was tapped home by the striker in the 86th minute taking Spain to the qualifiers and Sweden to the playoffs.
GROUP C - Switzerland and Italy
Switzerland and Italy sat on level points as they entered the final window of the third round. They faced each other on November 11th and, after a 1-1 draw, both needed to win their respective final matches to steal the coveted qualification slot.
Against one another, the Swiss took an early lead with a shot to the back of the net from Silvan Widmer. The Italians fought back and equalised with a well-worked free-kick headed home by Giovanni De Lorenzo in the 36th. And, while Italy piled on the pressure in the second half, they couldn't create any clear chances through the Swiss defence. Both had to settle for a point each and watch and wait while the other played their next qualification game.
The Swiss played Bulgaria, and the Italians faced Northern Ireland. Switzerland routed Bulgaria 4-0 in their efforts to win a place at the 2022 tournament. All four goals were struck in the second half of a game nicely controlled by the home side. Noah Okafor headed home the first, Ruben Vargas pulled off the second with a close-range strike, the third came from a powerful header courtesy of Cedric Itten and the fourth from Remo Freuler in stoppage time. Conversely, Italy was held to a 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland. The result: Switzerland booked their place in Qatar and Italy a run at the playoffs.
GROUP D - France and Ukraine
France qualified for the 2022 World Cup at the beginning of the November break with an 8-0 thumping of Kazakhstan. Four points clear of nearest rival Finland and just one match to go, The Blues were able to celebrate their victory early. The battle now was for second place and a spot at the playoffs. Ukraine, Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina were in the running, sitting on the table in second, third and fourth on 9, 8 and 7 points, respectively - though both Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina had a game in hand each.
Finland's 3-1 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina took them second on 11 points, two ahead of Ukraine. However, while Ukraine's final match was against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland faced group leaders and Russia 2018 World Cup winner France. On the day, Ukraine beat their rivals 2-0, with goals from Oleksander Zinchenko and Artem Dovbyk in the second half. Finland was beaten 2-0 by France, with second-half goals from Karim Benzema and Kilian Mbappe. Ukraine won their place in the playoffs 12 points ahead of Finland by just one.
GROUP E - Belgium and Wales
Unbeaten Belgium qualified for the World Cup in Qatar on 19 points, five clear of second-placed Wales, after their 3-1 win over Estonia on the 13th. The race for second place and a chance at the playoffs was down to the Czech Republic and Wales.
Wales started the window in third place on 11 points, separate from the Czech Republic on goal difference only. Fortunately, they also had a game in hand advantage. Against Belarus on the 13th, Wales smashed home the ball five times to Belarus' single goal, taking the match, the three points and the second-place spot. Aaron Ramsey hit home off of a rebound in the second minute of the game, Neco Williams doubled the score in the 20th. Ramsey earned a brace in the 50th from a penalty, Ben Davis scored his first for Wales in the 77th, and Conner Roberts scored from a free kick in the 89th.
Going into their final matches, Wales needed a draw against top dog Belgium to win, and the Czech Republic needed a win against last-placed Estonia and for Wales to be defeated. A dominant 2-0 win for the Czechs, with goals from Jakub Brabec and Jan Sykora, put the squad on an equal footing with Wales in terms of points and goal difference. But, despite facing the World's number one, who commanded the game, Wales came from behind with a 32-minute strike from Keiffer Moore to equalise for a draw and the point they needed to qualify for the playoffs.
Wales had already guaranteed a playoff place through the Nations League tournament. But, thanks to their point against Belgium, they are now seeded for the semi-finals and will manage to avoid away ties against Italy or Portugal.
GROUP F - Denmark and Scotland
With a 100% record, Denmark was one of the first European teams to qualify for the 2022 tournament. With a 1-0 win over Austria in October and sitting at the top of the table on 24 points, seven points clear of second-placed Scotland, they qualified with two games to play - one against the last-placed Faroe Islands and one against Scotland. Therefore, the November window was a battle for second place and a chance at the playoffs between Scotland and Israel.
Scotland began the November break on 17 points to Israel's 13, with Scotland due to play Moldova and Denmark and Israel to play Austria and the Faroe Islands. Israel needed Scotland to lose or draw both matches and to win both of its games, to stand any chance of qualifying. As it was, the Israelites lost their first match of the window 4-2 to Austria, and with the loss, they dropped out of the running. Scotland, meanwhile, beat Moldova 2-0 and, against the odds, took a 2-0 victory over Denmark - smashing their perfect record in the competition in the process.
In a thrilling victory in front of a home crowd, a determined Scotland entered the first half of their match against the Danes in fighting spirit. Thirty-five minutes in, Scotland's John Souttar headed home for the opening goal. Both sides sought the goal in the last minutes before the interval, but neither found their target. Denmark was more resolute after the break, with Andreas Cornelius threatening Craig Gordon. But, it was Scotland's Che Adams who settled the game with a late second, sending the Scots to the playoffs.
GROUP G - Netherlands and Turkey
Following the opening day of the November break, the Netherlands held the top spot by a margin of two points after an unexpected 2-2 draw with Montenegro. Turkey sat in second place on 18 points, displacing Norway, with a 6-0 win over Gibraltar. And Norway, following a draw with Latvia, held third place, also on 18 points. Heading into the final day's games on the 16th, both the top spot and the playoff place were still up for grabs.
On the day, Turkey took on Montenegro and came from behind to win the match after an early goal from Fatos Beciraj gave the Montenegrins the lead. Turkey's Muhammed Akturkoglu scored the equaliser in the 22nd, and Orkun Kokcu sealed a 2-1 win with a strike in the 60th. However, it wasn't enough to let the Turks slip into first place. In a do or die contest, the Netherlands faced Norway. If the Netherlands won or drew, they would keep their qualifying position. If Norway won with a good score, they could claim the top spot, or at least claim second place depending on Turkey's result. The high stakes made for a relatively dull match as both stayed on the defensive. However, two late goals - a shot into the corner from Steven Bergwijn in the 84th and a stoppage-time strike from Memphis Depay - gave the Dutch the win they needed. The Netherlands qualified, Turkey took the playoff place, and Norway lost out this time around.
GROUP H - Croatia and Russia
Russia and Croatia began the international window in first and second place on 19 and 17 points, and well clear of nearest rivals Slovakia and Slovenia on 10 points each. The battle for qualification and playoff places depended on Russia's match against Cyprus and Croatia's game with Malta on November 11th and a head-to-head between the two on the 14th.
Both teams routed their opponents on the 11th. Russia beat Cyprus 6-0, with the opening goal in the first four minutes and the rest delivered in the second round. And Croatia thumped Malta 7-1 in a non-stop attack over the full ninety minutes. Against one another, Russia needed a draw to win while Croatia needed the full three points to qualify. Croatia dominated the game, and, if not for some excellent saves from Russia's Matvei Safonou and a waterlogged pitch, the eventual 1-0 scoreline would have been much higher. As it was, Croatia's winning goal came from a Russian own goal courtesy of Fyodor Kudryashov in the 81st minute. The clumsy mistake handed Croatia their qualification ticket, while a heartbroken Russia will head to the playoffs.
GROUP I - England and Poland
With 20 points in the bag off an unbeaten run, England was poised to take their qualification spot in the November break. Realistically, only Poland on 17 points and in second place could hope to challenge The Three Lions and even then, with England facing last placed, yet to score minnows, San Marino, it wasn't much of a chance. The real test would be between Poland and Albania, in third and on 15 points, for the playoff place.
England took on Albania on the 12th and hammered them in front of a home crowd 5-0. Harry Maguire, Harry Kane with a hat trick and Jordan Henderson got their names on the scoresheet. Against tiny nation San Marino, who scored an own goal, a relentless England notched up ten goals to zero, the highest goal score in a single match across the competition. Harry Maguire and Harry Kane once again added to the tally (four from Kane and one from Maguire), while Emile Smith Rowe, Tyrone Mings and Bukayo Saka all added their names to the list too. The two wins gave England their qualification slot with 26 points.
Meanwhile, Poland took a comfortable 4-1 victory over Andorra, who played with just ten men after receiving one of the fastest red cards ever for a flying elbow foul on Kamil Glik. Lewandowski recorded a brace with 5th and 73rd-minute goals, added to by strikes from Kamil Jozwiak in the 11th and Arkadiusz Milik in first-half stoppage time. With Poland's win and Albania's loss, Poland won their place in the playoffs with a game to play.
GROUP J - Germany and North Macedonia
Germany qualified for Qatar back in October with a 2-1 over Romania and 18 points, the second country after Qatar to qualify. So, regardless of November's results, the German's position was secure (they crushed Liechtenstein 9-0 and hammered Armenia 4-1). The ticket to the playoffs, however, was not. Romania on 13 points and North Macedonia and Armenia on 12 points each would battle it out over two matchdays for the spot.
Armenia notched up a loss against North Macedonia on the first day of the break, depriving them of the chance to compete for second place. With the 5-0 win, North Macedonia moved up the leaderboard into second with 15 points. Romania needed a win against Iceland, second from bottom, to regain the playoffs position. Unfortunately, though the Romanian squad created plenty of chances, they didn't convert and left the field against Iceland with a goalless draw and 14 points.
The final deciding matches, held on November 14th, saw Romania take on Liechtenstein and North Macedonia face Iceland. Romania needed a win and for North Macedonia to lose to secure a chance at the playoffs. On the day, Romania took the three points from their 2-0 match with Liechtenstein. But, with a 3-1 win over Iceland, North Macedonia secured the runners-up spot.
The European 2022 Playoffs
The playoffs for Europe’s last three World Cup slots are scheduled to take place on March 24th and 29th, 2022. The ten group runners-up from the Group Stage of the qualifiers competition, plus two of the best group winners from the UEFA 2020/2021 Nations League overall ranking* Austria and the Czech Republic, will battle it out over the two days for the final three tickets to Qatar.
*The two best Nations League teams neither qualified directly via the 2022 qualifiers as group winners nor entered the playoffs as group runners up.
Prior to the event, a draw will take place on November 26th 2021, to allocate playoff paths to each team.
The twelve teams will be divided into three playoff paths, each containing four teams. Each playoff path will consist of two single-leg semi-finals, the winners of which will advance to a single-leg final. Nine are to be played matches overall. The winner of the final in each playoff path will qualify for the World Cup.
The European qualifier runners-up have been seeded or unseeded, depending on the final points (and goal difference) amassed during the tournament. Of the ten qualifying squads, the top six are seeded and the bottom four unseeded. The two Nations League winners join the bottom four as unseeded teams. During the draw on the 26th, seeded teams will be pitted against unseeded teams for their semi-final matches. Seeded squads will have the home advantage.
The teams have been seeded or unseeded as follows:
|Seeding/SeedSeeded 1||TeamPortugal||Points/Goal Difference17 / 11|
|Seeding/SeedSeeded 2||TeamScotland||Points/Goal Difference17 / 7|
|Seeding/SeedSeeded 3||TeamItaly||Points/Goal Difference16 / 11|
|Seeding/SeedSeeded 4||TeamRussia||Points/Goal Difference16 / 9|
|Seeding/SeedSeeded 5||TeamSweden||Points/Goal Difference15 / 6|
|Seeding/SeedSeeded 6||TeamWales||Points/Goal Difference15 / 5|
|Seeding/SeedUnseeded 7||TeamTurkey||Points/Goal Difference15 / 2|
|Seeding/SeedUnseeded 8||TeamPoland||Points/Goal Difference14 / 8|
|Seeding/SeedUnseeded 9||TeamNorth Macedonia||Points/Goal Difference12 / 3|
|Seeding/SeedUnseeded 10||TeamUkraine||Points/Goal Difference12 / 3|
|Seeding/SeedUnseeded 11||TeamAustria||Points/Goal DifferenceN/A|
|Seeding/SeedUnseeded 12||TeamCzech Republic||Points/Goal DifferenceN/A|
Check back at Living2022 on November 26th to find out the results of the playoff draw.
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