With two rounds to go in the European Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, the race for the Qatar 2022 seats is starting to heat up.
In October, Germany became the first country to reserve its spot, quickly followed by Denmark. This leaves eight automatic qualification slots up for grabs for group winners, along with 10 playoff slots for teams finishing second.
This is the situation of the 10 groups.
November 11th: Azerbaijan v Luxembourg, Republic of Ireland v Portugal
November 14th: Luxembourg v Republic of Ireland, Portugal v Serbia
The group is a direct battle between Serbia (17 points) and Portugal (16 points). Portugal have a pending game, away against Ireland, and need a point to keep the group in their hands.
If Cristiano Ronaldo’s team manages to win or draw in Dublin, they will only have to avoid a home loss to Serbia to qualify automatically. If they lose to Ireland, Portugal must beat Serbia.
Serbia knows that, in all likelihood, they will have to win in Lisbon to beat Portugal and avoid the play-off.
November 11th: Georgia vs. Sweden, Greece vs. Spain
November 14th: Greece vs. Kosovo, Spain vs. Sweden
Only Sweden (15 points) and Spain (13 points) can win the group.
Sweden can qualify on November 11 if they win in Georgia and Spain fail to beat Greece, but if the two countries win, it will all come down to the meeting between the two in Seville, and Sweden would have to avoid defeat to lead the group and advance from directly to the World Cup, relegating Spain to the repechage.
Greece still has a chance of making the play-offs, but it would have to beat Spain and Kosovo, and hope that Spain does not beat Sweden.
Spain is guaranteed a playoff spot if it falls outside the top two as a finalist in the UEFA Nations League.
12th of November: Italy vs. Switzerland, Northern Ireland vs. Lithuania
November 15: Northern Ireland vs. Italy, Switzerland vs. Bulgaria
Another group with only two teams left in the race, Italy and Switzerland, tied at 14 points.
Italy leads the group for having a better goal difference, but only two.
The two teams will meet in Rome on November 12, and if there is a winner in that match, they will need a point in the last match to qualify for the World Cup.
If Italy and Switzerland draw, the Swiss will have to improve on Italy’s result on the final date, or win by at least two more goals to equalize the goal difference.
If Italy and Switzerland end up tied on points and goal difference (and goals scored), it all comes down to heads up. If there is a tie with goals in Rome, Switzerland will win the heads up. If there is a goalless draw in Rome, the first and second place will be decided by the disciplinary record.
November 13: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Finland, France vs. Kazakhstan
Nov. 16: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Ukraine, Finland vs. France
A more open group, with four teams in the race.
France (12 points) leads the group and will seal their place in the World Cup if they beat Kazakhstan.
Ukraine (9 points) are second but, without a match on November 13, they might not be there when they travel to Bosnia on the last date. They only have one match left, which means they can only top the group if France lose both matches next month. Given that Finland will face France on November 14, a win over Bosnia will most likely be enough to secure second place.
Finland (8 points) and Bosnia (7 points) will meet on November 11, and the result of this encounter will establish exactly what it takes to clinch second place in the last couple of matches.
November 13: Belgium vs. Estonia, Wales vs. Belarus
Nov. 16: Czech Republic v Estonia, Wales v Belgium
Belgium (16 points) are guaranteed one of the top two places, and need a home win against Estonia to secure qualification. It would also qualify if Wales don’t beat Belarus in Cardiff.
The real battle is for second place as the Czech Republic and Wales have 14 points. Wales are third on goal difference (two goals less than the Czechs), but have a game pending (at home against Belarus). Wales will have to make the most of that match, as they host Belgium in their final qualifying match. If Wales beat Belarus, they would have to avoid defeat to Belgium to secure second place.
If Wales lose at home to Belgium, the door opens for the Czech Republic to finish second on goal difference with a win over Estonia.
Whoever finishes third will likely have a chance of landing a playoff berth thanks to their performance in the UEFA Nations League, although they would not be seeded in the draw.
12th of November: Austria vs. Israel, Denmark vs. Faroe Islands, Moldova vs. Scotland
November 15: Austria v Moldova, Israel v Faroe Islands, Scotland v Denmark
Denmark have qualified with a 100% record, leading to a fight for second place between Scotland (17) and Israel (13).
Scotland will advance to the playoffs with a win in Moldova or if Israel fails to win against Austria.
But if defined in the final round, Israel is hopeful, with Scotland taking on Denmark.
Austria are already out of the running for the top two spots, but have a good chance of making the playoffs as a winner of the UEFA Nations League group stage.
November 13: Norway vs. Latvia, Turkey vs. Gibraltar, Montenegro vs. Netherlands
Nov. 16: Gibraltar vs. Latvia, Montenegro vs. Turkey, Netherlands vs. Norway
A hard-fought group in which three nations still have realistic hopes of qualifying.
The Netherlands (19 points) lead and know that wins two will send to the World Cup. They can also qualify with a win on November 13, if Norway fails to beat Latvia.
Norway (17 points) are still in contention, and if they beat Latvia it will all depend on their clash against the Netherlands in Rotterdam on the final day. If Norway and the Netherlands win on November 13, Norway is going to need a win over the Netherlands to top the group, and they are far from assured of second place.
Turkey (15 points) is hopeful as Norway has to face the Netherlands on visitors. If Turkey wins its two remaining matches, it will finish second if Norway loses any points.
Montenegro (11 points) still has a mathematical chance of finishing second, but nothing more than that and to do so it will need Turkey to fail to overtake Gibraltar.
November 11th: Russia against Cyprus, Malta against Croatia, Slovakia against Slovenia
November 14th: Croatia vs. Russia, Malta vs. Slovakia, Slovenia vs. Cyprus
A two-horse race between Russia (19 points) and Croatia (17 points).
Russia can qualify on November 11 if they win at home to Cyprus and if Croatia cannot beat Malta, although both teams are likely to win.
That will lead to a definition in Split on November 14, when Croatia host Russia. Croatia are going to need to win to beat their visitors and lead the group.
12th of November: Andorra against Poland, England against Albania, Hungary against San Marino
November 15: Albania against Andorra, Poland against Hungary, San Marino against England
England (20 points) are limping closer to the finish line, but should qualify without problems anyway. A home win against Albania on November 12 will send them to the World Cup if Poland (17 points) fail to beat Andorra, although that would seem unlikely. Even if England lost at home to Albania (and Poland beat Andorra), they would have a final match against San Marino to increase their goal difference against the Poles (currently +4 in favor of England).
Albania (15 points) will have to win at Wembley to keep their hopes alive, any other result would put them out of contention before the final day.
Hungary (11 points) has a mathematical chance, but it will need Poland to lose in Andorra and turn around a deficit in goal difference of 13 with the Poles.
November 11th: Armenia against North Macedonia, Germany against Liechtenstein, Romania against Iceland
November 14th: Armenia vs. Germany, Liechtenstein vs. Romania, North Macedonia vs. Iceland
With Germany having secured their spot, it’s a battle of four for a playoff spot.
Romania (13 points) has it in their hands, and will secure the second with a home win against Iceland, leaving a clash with Liechtenstein on the final day.
North Macedonia and Armenia (12 points) will go head-to-head on November 11, and the winner will have the qualification in their hands if Romania fails to beat Iceland. However, Armenia has to face Germany in their last match, which would make it very difficult for them to win the second.
Iceland (8 points) has not yet been left out, but their chances are slim. They are going to have to win both matches, hope that Armenia draws with North Macedonia and that Armenia and Romania lose their last matches.
HOW PLAYOFFS WORK
The ten teams that finish second in their groups are joined by the two best Nations League group winners who have not finished within the top 2 of their qualifying groups.
Based on the UEFA Nations League group winners who may finish outside the top two, the order of preference for a playoff spot is: France, Spain, Wales, Austria, Czech Republic.
While Austria, and Wales or the Czech Republic, are guaranteed to finish outside the top two in their groups, there are no other countries fighting for the additional two places.
The playoffs, to be played in March 2022, will be defined by qualification points, with the two Nations League teams entering without a seed.
Teams with a seed will play at home against those without a seed in the one-game semi-finals.
There will be an open draw for the three playoff finals, which will once again be one-game, to define the last places.