FIFA’s World Cup qualifying playoff draws for 2022 tournament in Qatar

2021-11-27 13:51:44
FIFA’s World Cup qualifying playoff draws for 2022 tournament in Qatar

FIFA conducted a pair of World Cup qualifying playoff draws on Friday that dealt a brutal hand to two European powers while offering the U.S. men’s national team a potential reprieve if it stumbles in Concacaf’s Octagonal.

Friday’s draws created a pathway for five nations to reach next year’s 32-team World Cup in Qatar—three from Europe and two from the rest of the world. Among the European countries vying for one of those spots are the past two continental champions: Italy and Portugal.

Both are ranked in FIFA’s top 10 and both enjoy vast popularity and pedigree. But both finished a surprising second in their UEFA qualifying groups, and on Friday they were placed in the same playoff bracket.

Let there be no claims that these proceedings are fixed, because the result is a worst-case scenario for many. It confirms that either four-time world champion Italy will be absent from a second straight World Cup, or Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo will miss out on what likely would’ve been his final World Cup.

“It’s a very difficult draw for us,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said with a laugh on FIFA’s broadcast.

“If we win, we go to play away the final in Turkey or Portugal. They’re very strong,” said Mancini, who managed the revitalized Azzurri to the European Championship crown this summer.

Scotland, Ukraine, Wales and Austria comprise Path A, while Russia, Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic comprise Path B. The Path A, B and C survivors will fill out UEFA’s 13-team contingent in Qatar. European sides have won the past four World Cups.

FIFA on Friday also arranged the pairings for the intercontinental playoffs, which gives nations just outside the automatic qualification places in Concacaf, South America and Asia—plus a team from Oceania—a chance to reach the World Cup.

Traditionally these playoffs been contested as home-and-home series that required significant travel but this year, thanks to the pandemic and a compressed schedule, they’ll be staged as one-off matches next June 13-14 in Qatar.

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