The make-up of the combatants for Qatar 2022 is starting to take shape. So far, 14 teams have qualified, leaving 18 spots still to be filled. The usual suspects? Well, yes and no. Brazil, England, France and Spain are already secure, as are ever-popular dark horses like Argentina, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.
It’s when you look at who’s not secure yet that things get interesting, especially from the European intake. Three more berths are available, and 12 teams are fighting for them. It’s relatively simple, they’ve been drawn into three groups or paths, each of which will play a semi final and a final to decide who qualifies. The intriguing part is that both Italy and Portugal are on Path C, meaning only one will feature at Qatar 2022.
Two big guns, one qualifier spot
Italy were well out of the reckoning in the Euro 2020 odds tips last year, and we all know how that ended. As European champions and four-times World cup winners, their absence from Qatar seems inconceivable. Of course, they missed out in 2018, too, for the first time in 60 years. Once might be seen as carelessness but twice?
Meanwhile, Portugal have never got beyond the round of 16, but they also haven’t missed a World Cup this century. Winning it might be a step too far, but at least taking his team through a decent world cup run into the quarter finals or beyond is the one thing that’s lacking from Ronaldo’s CV. He turned 37 this week, so it’s now or never. Surely fate won’t take it from him in this cruel way?
The remaining European qualifiers
The last three UEFA qualifiers will be decided next month. Portugal play Turkey and Italy have drawn Macedonia, with the winners of each semi playing one another in the final. The winner of the Portugal vs Turkey game will play at home.
The other two paths are no less compelling. Path A sees Wales play Austria and Scotland taking on Ukraine, so there’s a real chance of Wales and Scotland fighting it out at Cardiff for seats on the plane to Doha. In Path B, It’s Russia vs Poland and Sweden vs Czech Republic. Either Russia or Poland will have home advantage in their deciding fixture.
And the rest of the qualifying picture.
By the end of March we will know, and three more teams will have their place at Qatar assured. That will still leave 15 places left. Five will come from Africa, two from South America, and three from Asia, with another coming through a playoff between the next best teams from each of the latter two regions. Concaff will provide three, with the fourth best team playing off against the best from Oceania for the final spot.
Convoluted? It seems a little so, a factor that will be somewhat alleviated from 2026, when there will be 48 teams taking part instead of the current 32.