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World Cup 2022 Qualifiers: Who can qualify this week? Who’s in danger? Key clashes

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A dramatic few days in the battle for World Cup qualification lies ahead, with 29 of 32 spots for the tournament in Qatar this winter set to be determined by Friday. 

The qualification process – which is split between six confederations – has been ongoing since the summer of 2019 but its now reaching a crescendo with the majority of nations finishing their campaigns this week.   

Just seven European sides remain in the battle for the final three spots, from a total of 13, though the process has been extended following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the latter’s clash against Scotland postponed until June. 

The 2022 World Cup, which will be the first-ever winter tournament, will be held in Qatar

The 2022 World Cup, which will be the first-ever winter tournament, will be held in Qatar

It’s not just those in Europe vying for an all-important plane ticket to Qatar, however, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah set to go head-to-head in their crunch second leg tie, after Egypt claimed a slender advantage over Senegal last week. 

USA, meanwhile, are on the brink of qualification, looking to follow in the footsteps of Canada – who have sealed a spot in the tournament for the first time since 1986.  

Sportsmail takes you through the qualification processes across the globe, the nations battling to cement a place in Qatar, and the key clashes to look out for.

Who has already qualified? 

Before we delve into the specifics across each confederation, let’s first briefly outline exactly who has cemented a place at the ever-approaching tournament. 

Being hosts, Qatar’s qualification was never in doubt; they will be seeded and placed into Pot A for the impending World Cup group stage draw on April 1. 

In Europe, it was Germany who first confirmed their qualification, with Denmark swiftly following. England also safely navigated their way through their group, remaining unbeaten throughout. 

Gareth Southgate's England remained unbeaten as they qualified for the tournament with ease

Gareth Southgate’s England remained unbeaten as they qualified for the tournament with ease

Joining them in the mix are Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Croatia, Serbia and Switzerland. 

Outside of Europe, South American quartet Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay have qualified, alongside Canada, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia.  

That leaves 12 places up for grabs in the coming weeks and months.

What’s the state of play in Europe?  

Two of the three remaining places up for grabs will be determined on Tuesday evening.  

The group stages saw the 10 winners automatically qualify for Qatar, while the runners-up – joined by the two highest-ranked Nations League sides who had otherwise failed to book a spot – were placed into the play-offs.   

Russia were initially included in the list of 12 nations, split into three groups of four, but they have since been removed by FIFA due to the invasion of Ukraine.   

Last week saw four sides dumped out of the process, being Czech Republic, Austria, Turkey and, most notably, Italy, who all fell to defeats in the playoff semi-finals. 

Moving into the finals were Sweden, Wales, Portugal and North Macedonia, joining Poland, who had received a bye having been due to face Russia. 

Wales will have to wait until this summer to play their final, with Ukraine’s clash against Scotland postponed until June. 

Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, could be involved in World Cup action for the last time on Tuesday

Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, could be involved in World Cup action for the last time on Tuesday

Italy were dumped out of the World Cup by North Macedonia in last week's shock result

Italy were dumped out of the World Cup by North Macedonia in last week’s shock result 

Path C sides Portugal and North Macedonia will now do battle on Tuesday night, with the latter hell-bent on causing another monumental upset.  

As stated, Wales and Scotland remain on a collision course to face each other in the Path A final, while in Path B Poland and Sweden go head-to-head, also on Tuesday.     

Both of Tuesday’s crunch qualifying clashes kick-off at 7.45pm.  

Upcoming fixtures: 

Path A: 

  • Semi-final 1: Scotland vs Ukraine – postponed until June 
  • Final: Wales vs Scotland/Ukraine – TBC 

Path B:

  • Final: Poland vs Sweden – Tuesday, March 29 at 7.45pm

Path C:

  • Final: Portugal vs North Macedonia – Tuesday, March 29 at 7.45pm

Africa: Salah and Mane do battle AGAIN 

There will be five African nations competing at this year’s World Cup, but astonishingly one of Senegal and Egypt – who competed in February’s Africa Cup of Nations final – will be absent.  

The nations were split into 10 qualifying groups, with the winners of each drawn into two-legged ties to determine who qualifies.   

The first legs were completed last week, with Saliou Ciss’ own goal handing Egypt a slender 1-0 advantage doing into the deciding encounter.  

Riyad Mahrez’s Algeria meanwhile beat Cameroon 1-0, while Tunisia saw Mali by the same scoreline. 

The clashes between Congo and Morocco and Ghana and Nigeria both ended as draws.  

Mohamed Salah's Egypt side defeated Senegal 1-0 in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier

Mohamed Salah’s Egypt side defeated Senegal 1-0 in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier

Sadio Mane, who scored the decisive penalty as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations title in February, will be looking to guide his side to a comeback on Tuesday

Sadio Mane, who scored the decisive penalty as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations title in February, will be looking to guide his side to a comeback on Tuesday

The second-leg clashes will all take place on Tuesday, March 29. 

Upcoming fixtures: 

  • Senegal vs Egypt – 6pm
  • Nigeria vs Ghana – 6pm
  • Algeria vs Cameroon – 8.30pm
  • Morocco vs Congo – 8.30pm
  • Tusinia vs Mali – 8.30pm 

Of course, Senegal vs Egypt is the pick of the bunch, with Liverpool duo Mane and Salah going from team-mates to opposition once more. 

It was Mane who scored the decisive spot-kick as Senegal won a historic first-ever AFCON title on penalties, with both players desperate to perform after underwhelming outings in Russia four years ago.  

North, Central America and Caribbean

The North, Central America and Caribbean qualification process has produced a truly remarkable story, with Canada securing a spot in the World Cup for the first time since 1986.  

Two qualifying rounds have come and gone, with the third and final round – an eight-team league – coming to its conclusion on March 31.  

Canada are already celebrating their historic feat, after securing a spot with a 4-0 victory over Jamaica on Sunday. 

Just one round of fixtures remain for the eight sides to confirm a place in Qatar, though only USA, Mexico and Costa Rica are still in the hunt.   

The sides finishing in the top three will automatically qualify, with the side in fourth going into the inter-confederation play-off.

USA and Mexico look set to join Canada as the automatic qualifiers, with Costa Rica most likely heading for the play-offs

USA and Mexico look set to join Canada as the automatic qualifiers, with Costa Rica most likely heading for the play-offs 

Englishman John Herdman will lead Canada to their first World Cup in some 36 years

Englishman John Herdman will lead Canada to their first World Cup in some 36 years

Canada, guided by Englishman John Herdman, have qualified just once before for the World Cup – all the way back in 1986, where they lost all three games and went out without a point.  

They’ll hope to fair better this winter, with their final qualifying clash against Panama on Thursday morning (UK time) now a dead rubber. 

USA, in second place, have all but secured qualification after thumping Panama 5-1. They would need to lose by at least six goals against Costa Rica on Thursday to lose out on an automatic spot. They would then move to the play-offs, most likely against New Zealand.    

Mexico are also on the verge of qualification, with a clash against sixth-placed El Salvador to come.  

Upcoming fixtures:

  • Costa Rica vs USA – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am
  • Jamaica vs Honduras – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am
  • Mexico vs El Salvador – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am
  • Panama vs Canada – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am 

Asia: Australia facing the play-offs after Japan loss 

Alongside Qatar, who as stated automatically qualified as hosts, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia are the Asian sides to have confirmed their places in Qatar. 

As in the North, Central America and Caribbean qualification process, two rounds have come and gone, with the 12 nations still standing drawn into two groups of six. 

The two winners and runners-up in each group automatically qualify, with the two teams finishing in third progressing to a play-off. The winner of that will go into the inter-confederation play-off, where they will play the fifth-placed side in South American qualifying – currently Peru. 

The automatic places are now filled, unfortunately for Australia, who were last week still in with a shot of automatic qualification. Their hopes were ended by a 2-0 defeat to Japan.  

Who they will meet in the play-off will be determined this week.  

Australia's chances of automatic qualification were ended by a 2-0 defeat to Japan last week

Australia’s chances of automatic qualification were ended by a 2-0 defeat to Japan last week

South Korea and Iran have already confirmed their qualification for the World Cup in Qatar

South Korea and Iran have already confirmed their qualification for the World Cup in Qatar

As have Japan and Saudi Arabia, with Australia sat in third and heading for the play-off

As have Japan and Saudi Arabia, with Australia sat in third and heading for the play-off

Group B is now decided, with Japan and Saudi Arabia qualifying and Australia going into the play-off.   

As for Group A, third place is still up for grabs. United Arab Emirates are currently in pole position on nine points, but both Iraq and Lebanon are in with a shout.     

United Arab Emirates face top dogs South Korea on Tuesday, while Lebanon have a tough encounter against Iran to come. Iraq, meanwhile, come up against bottom side Syria.  

Upcoming fixtures: 

Tuesday, March 29

  • Iran vs Lebanon – 12.30pm
  • United Arab Emirates vs South Korea – 2.45pm
  • Syria vs Iraq – 2.45pm
  • Japan vs Vietnam – 11.35am
  • Oman vs China – 5pm 
  • Saudi Arabia vs Australia – 7pm     

Oceania: Just one team will prevail… maybe 

The situation in the Oceania qualifying process is slightly more complicated – both in structure and due to the fact it has been ravaged by Covid. 

In terms of the structure, a mini-tournament in Doha will reach its conclusion on Wednesday evening. 

The tournament was initially set to consist of two groups, with the top two nations in each advancing to a semi-final and final play-off, and the winner then going through to the inter-confederation play-off. 

New Zealand

New Zealand are the team to beat in the mini-tournament currently underway in Doha

A number of nations were forced to pull out due to Covid, however, with Solomon Islands and Tahiti – the only remaining Group A sides – instead playing in a single play-off clash do determine the winner and runner-up of the group.   

It was Solomon Islands who emerged victorious, before going on to play Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals, where they again won to progress to the final. 

Runners-up Tahiti were defeated by New Zealand in the remaining semi-final. New Zealand will now go on to play Solomon Islands in Wednesday’s final. 

However, there is no guarantee that either side will then qualify for the World Cup, with the winner going on to play the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF region, featuring sides from North and Central America and the Caribbean. Currently, that’s Costa Rica. 

Fixtures:

  • Final: Solomon Islands vs New Zealand – Wednesday, March 30 at 6pm

When does the World Cup start and how will it work? 

The World Cup will take place between November 21 and December 18 this year with a total of 32 teams – initially split into eight groups of four – competing for the grand prize.

The group stages will begin on November 21 and will run for 12 days, with four matches being played on each. 

The World Cup final will be played on December 18

The World Cup final will be played on December 18 

Typically, the top two teams from each group will progress to the round of 16. There won’t be any third-place teams progressing to the knockouts, as we saw at Euro 2020 this summer. 

In another difference to Euro 2020, there also won’t be a third-place play-off taking place at the World Cup. 

The group stages will come to an end on December 2, with the round of 16 then played from December 3-6. 

The quarter-finals will then take place from December 9-10, before the semi-finals are played on December 13 and 14. 

The final of the 2022 World Cup will take place on Sunday, December 18.  



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