Final Round One Matches of European 2022 Qualifiers Close at Hand
The first round of UEFA’s 2022 qualification competition is drawing to a close, and for the would-be victors heading to Qatar next November, there is a chance to win the FIFA World Cup tournament. Denmark and Germany have already secured their places with two games in hand each, so the question remains, who will be in the final eight?
The European 2022 Qualifiers
The opening round European qualifiers began in March 2021 and have been played over the ensuing international windows. Fifty-five teams are contesting the first round of the competition, but only ten will win the right to a direct spot at the World Cup in Qatar - three will qualify via a second round. For Round One, the teams have been drawn into ten groups (A-J) of five or six teams. Each group plays a series of home and away round-robin matches across ten matchdays to determine the outright group winners. Eight of the ten matchdays are complete, and the final two begin imminently. Who are the dead certs, who still has a fighting chance of qualifying and who should give up the ghost? Let’s take a look at the standings and predictions for each group...
The ten group runners-up from Round One will advance to a playoff tournament in March 2022 to decide the final three slots at the World Cup.
At the end of the previous international break in October, Serbia, Sweden, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, and England were at the top of their groups and in pole position for qualification. Denmark and Germany, seven and eight points ahead of their nearest rivals, had already qualified despite having two games left to play. While some of those in the top spots will almost certainly advance to the World Cup competition, with two matchdays left to play, some will be fighting tooth and nail to book their tickets.
Serbia currently sits in first place on 17 points, ahead of Portugal on one point after beating both Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in October. However, Portugal, who has held the top spot since the tournament's beginning, has a game in hand. The Portuguese should earn the full three points against Ireland, who have won only one match from six since March, to put them back in the lead. Even with a draw and just one point, A Seleção will be ahead on goal difference. The decider for the golden ticket to Qatar will be a head-to-head between the two - Serbia only has one match left to complete. Whoever takes the three points will advance to the World Cup, but a draw would see Portugal victorious. Whoever takes second place will head to the next round of playoffs in March '22 for another shot at qualification.
In October, Sweden overtook Spain as the group's top dog with wins against Kosovo and Greece. Both teams have two matches to play in November, and just two points separate the pair. With two games left, Greece is hot on Spain's tail for second place and a chance to advance to the next round. However, the Greeks have to beat the Spanish, who have lost only one match in this tournament, to do so. In all likelihood, Spain will take the three points from Greece, and Sweden will win their game over fourth-placed Georgia, leaving just the two in contention for the 2022 event. A head-to-head between the pair will decide who gets a direct pass to Qatar and who takes another shot at qualification in March.
|Northern Ireland||Points5||Goal Difference-2|
Italy and Switzerland are separated by a goal difference of just two. Both teams have worked their way through the tournament to date unbeaten, with four wins and two draws each. Over the November break, they must face each other and Northern Ireland and Bulgaria, respectively. Assuming that Switzerland beats Bulgaria and Italy routs Northern Ireland, the decider will be their head-to-head. Their last tournament meeting ended in a goalless draw. On November 12th, both teams will be missing some key players due to injury, but Italy's named squad still has significant strength compared to Switzerland who will have to rely on less prominent players. While Italy is, on paper, favourite to win, the fight for first and second place should go down to the wire.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Points7||Goal Difference1|
Having led Group E from the start of the competition and sitting three points ahead of second-placed Ukraine with a game in hand, France is more than likely to take its place at the 2022 World Cup tournament. In November, the real competition will be between Ukraine and Finland for second place and the opportunity to qualify via the March playoffs. Ukraine lead by one point only, and Finland has a game in hand. Admittedly, Finland may struggle to win points from France. However, if they win their match over Bosnia and Herzegovina, they may leapfrog Ukraine into the second top spot. Ukraine also faces Bosnia and Herzegovina, who held them to a draw when they met earlier in the tournament.
|Czech Republic||Points11||Goal Difference3|
Front runners Belgium have held the top spot in Group E since March, and with a five-point lead over the Czech Republic and a game in hand, they should end the competition as group winners. Second place and a spot at the March '22 playoffs still hangs in the balance. The Czech Republic and Wales have been in a tussle for second since the competition began and will face the November break with just a goal difference of two separating them. The Czech's will battle Estonia on November 16th, and based on their previous 6-2 win over the Estonians; the Lokomotiva should take the points. Wales, on the other hand, face Belarus and Belgium. Away against Belarus, the Welsh narrowly took the win. Against Belgium in their previous meeting, they lost 3-1. So, for Wales, overtaking the Czech's might not be straightforward. However, regardless of the outcome, The Dragons are all but guaranteed a playoff spot thanks to their Nations League success.
|Faroe Islands||Points4||Goal Difference-13|
Denmark is through to the 2022 World Cup regardless of their final two performances in November. However, a spot at the qualifier playoffs in March is still up for grabs. In second place and five points ahead of rivals Israel, Scotland will battle for victory against Moldova and Denmark. In their previous encounters, Scotland beat Moldova 1-0 but lost to Denmark 2-0. Meanwhile, Israel in third place faces Austria and the Faroe Islands - both of whom they thumped in Septembers' bouts. Scotland will need the full three points against Moldova to stay ahead of Israel, who will likely collect six points across the matchdays.
The Netherlands, after Turkey's initial reign at the top of the table, have been in first place since September's break. Norway has risen from fourth place to second over the tournament. Separated by just two points, both will be gunning for the direct spot to Qatar's World Cup. The Oranje will face off against Montenegro and its closest rival, Norway, over the November window. The Lions, apart from their bout with the Netherlands, will battle Latvia for three points. It is anticipated that both will overcome fourth and fifth-placed Montenegro and Latvia. But, against one another, the Dutch are favourites to win - the Norwegians will be battling to at least hold the Netherlands to a draw and collect a single point. A single point will be significant since Turkey, just two points behind Norway, still has a fair chance of sneaking into second place if they win their matches against Gibraltar and Montenegro.
Russia currently sits in first place after leapfrogging Croatia in October with wins over Slovakia and Slovenia. Croatia, who led the pack from March to October, dropped crucial points and let Russia in with a draw against Slovakia. During the November window, Russia and Croatia should maintain their positions with wins over Cyprus and Malta, respectively - both their last meetings ended in victory. The decider for first and second place will be the head-to-head between the two on November 14th. The match will be played in Split, giving the Croatians a home advantage. However, the Russians are two points clear of The Blazers, setting them up nicely for the battle. Both nations have strong teams and will be determined to win the points but, unless Croatia is victorious, they will have to settle for a spot at the March '22 playoffs.
|San Marino||Points0||Goal Difference-31|
Three points clear of nearest rivals Poland, England have been riding at the top of the table since the tournament began. However, Poland has been steadily working their way up the standings to within touching distance of the leaders. While The Three Lions, who face Albania and San Marino, should clinch their place at the 2022 World Cup by the end of the November break, Poland is still in with a chance. Albania has been relatively consistent throughout the competition and poses a fair threat to the English. Only with a win or a draw against the Albanians and a win over fifth-placed, and yet to accumulate any points, San Marino, will England secure their ticket to Qatar. Poland will need to win both their matches against Andorra and Hungary (and hope for a failure from England) to keep any hope of direct qualification alive. They will also need maximum points to secure their position in second place and a spot at the upcoming playoffs over Albania - only two points adrift.
|North Macedonia||Points12||Goal Difference5|
With their place in Qatar already determined, Germany will qualify regardless of their upcoming results against Liechtenstein and Armenia. However, the race for second place is still very much alive. Romania currently sits second in the table on 13 points, but North Macedonia and Armenia are close behind on 12 points each. With only one point separating the teams, the November games should be tightly contested. Of the three teams, Armenia has the most challenging competition facing North Macedonia and Germany. While Armenia and North Macedonia are relatively evenly matched, against Germany in September, the Armenians were thrashed 6-0. Romania will be hoping to collect full points against Iceland and Liechtenstein; they will also be hoping that Armenia either draw or win against North Macedonia and lose to Germany to maintain their position in second above the Macedonians.
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