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FIFA World Cup Final Stretch Will Determine Several Countries’ Fates

Al Khalifa Stadium Doha, Qatar.
Al Khalifa Stadium Doha, Qatar. D@LY3D

At the moment only 3 of 32 teams have qualified for the 2022 World Cup; the host, Qatar, and group winners Denmark and Germany. Several high-profile national squads and high-profile players are still fighting for a spot — either finishing first in groups to earn an automatic bid or in the final brawl for the few tickets in ensuing playoff brackets. It’s going to be a grueling final few months on the pitch. Here are the teams in danger of missing their flight to Qatar in 2022.

Europe — UEFA Cup

Qualifying began with 55 European nations in March 2021 (along with the rest of the world). The 10 winners of each of 10 groups of 5 to 6 teams qualify and will go to the FIFA World Cup. The final three places are allocated via playoffs featuring the 10 runners-up and the two best-ranked 2020-21 UEFA Nations League from France, Spain, Wales, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

The second round of the UEFA qualifiers zone will wrap up in November as opposed to March. Teams are now left with just one or two more games to play before their fate is sealed. Germany and Denmark have already booked tickets to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, leaving 11 more spots to fill.

Led by Cristiano Rolando, Portugal’s stacked squad finished Match Day 8 on Oct. 12 in second place, one point behind Serbia in Group A, after thumping Luxembourg. Group A Serbia, though, has played one more match than the Navigators and a Nov. 14 head-to-head game looms. If either team wins outright, it’s headed to the 2022 World Cup while the other is relegated to fighting for one of three spots left in the 11-team playoff. In the event of a tie, however, Portugal holds a four-goals-against difference

With Sweden’s 2-0 victory over Greece, Spain fell to second place in Group B with 13 points. The other Iberian can qualify directly if they are able to consecutively beat Greece and Sweden in the last dates of the European tie, but that’s a tough ask. Sweden may be playing for a Qatar ticket of its own and the Greeks, up first, are also vying for a playoff spot. If Spain beats Greece and falls to the Swedes, they’re headed to the playoffs. Group B has a lot of business to take care of. 

Turkey, on the other hand, doesn’t control its own fate. In third place in Group G despite featuring several prominent Euro professionals, Asia Minor’s squad must hope for Norway to stumble with a draw and a loss against Latvia and the Netherlands in order to move into second place and advance to the playoffs. Stefan Kuntz’s squad is at serious risk of not making it to the Middle East in 2022.

Speaking of great European players, the great Gareth Bale and his Welsh company also sit in third place in sector E with 11 units, the same as the second-place Czech Republic. Unless the Czechs stumble against Estonia, the Welshmen will need to knock off last place Belarus and draw or tie an unbeaten Belgian squad just to qualify for the playoffs. 

The 2022 World Cup could also be without Bayern Munich’s great striker, Robert Lewandowski. The Poles are hot, but it would take a disaster for the team to overtake England in first place (though bobbies beating Hungarian fans doesn’t make for a good omen). Poland can still win a ticket in the playoffs, but there are only two spots available out of 11…

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South America — CONMEBOL

With seven match dates left (including today, Oct. 14) until the South American qualifier finishes on March 29, 2022, things are heavy at the top and tight in the middle where fourth place guarantees a spot in the World Cup and fifth place will qualify for repechage — an intercontinental playoff TBD draw.

One of 2018’s up-and-comers, Colombia is now sitting in a perilous fifth position after a mediocre 3-6-2 showing in the first South American qualifiers. Today is Reinaldo Rueda and the coffee squad’s shot at redemption, though, going toe-to-toe with Ecuador who sits in third place, but is only a point ahead in the CONMEBOL standings. If Uruguay also falls to unbeaten Brazil, they’re sitting pretty, but they need to get moving soon. 

Another new arrival, Chile, established itself as one of South America’s toughest teams a few years ago, but is now at risk of missing its second World Cup in a row. Sitting in eight place in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, Martín Lasarte’s Andean squad still has a chance to land in Qatar 2022, but needs to sweep Venezuela, Paraguay, and Ecuador and have Colombia lose to earn even a chance to leap up in the standings.

North/Central America — CONCACAF 

Drawn from CONCACAF’s 35 original country squads, Group of 6 winners Canada, El Salvador, and Panama joined teams FIFA’s 1-5 World Ranking in the region — Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, and the United States. The eight teams will play each other at home and away for a total of 14 matches. The top three qualify directly, with the fourth-placed team going to an intercontinental playoff in June 2022.

Where there have only been eight of 14 games played, the slow-forming stretch has helped a United States team that, at an average age of 22 years and 61 days, is the youngest in U.S. qualifying history. They’re young enough that seven players on the current squad (six of whom saw action on Wednesday) weren’t even born when Columbus hosted the first World Cup qualifier in the fall of 2000. There’s loads of talent, but there will be bumps along the way.

The team followed a relatively easy opening win over Jamaica by face-planting against Panama, which generated considerable conversation about U.S. depth and fortitude. After giving up a very early goal to Costa Rica, the U.S. controlled the pitch, however, beginning with a 13-pass stretch that ended in 20-year old outside backer Sergiño Dest slamming home a pretty left-footer to equalize the match. 

Though there were stretches of poor passes and uninterested defense that’s to be expected from a young squad, the movement, proactivity, and dynamism missing in Panama was on display in Columbus, where Coach Gregg Berhalter deployed nine new starters.

Tim Weah — who found out he was starting five minutes before kickoff when winger Paul Arriola pulled-up injured during warm-ups — was one of only two holdovers from the Panama match. He made up for a lackluster effort by firing home the game-winner at 66 minutes. A smart run got Weah between the Costa Rican left and center backs and he hammered a shot off the post and goalkeeper Leonel Moreira. (Scored as an own goal, the U.S. will appeal the mark to FIFA.)

The win pulled the United States into sole position in second place leading up to Nov. 12’s blockbuster with first place Mexico. 

The Costa Rican team is heading in the other direction, now sitting in fifth place with only six points after six matches and looming matches against Canada and frisky Panama will not be easy. Los Tikos have to hope that their aging star, Keylor Navas, a three-time UEFA Champions League winner, gets healthy in the next few weeks after leaving the U.S. match in the first half with a muscle injury.

Read More: What Soccer Player-Turned-Model Jason Roberts Can’t Live Without

Matthew Denis
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
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