World Cup Trophy

World Cup 2022 Qualifiers: (almost) The Last Chance

It’s gonna be hard to talk about the World Cup this time around, even more than usual. Given that it’s happening in certain place with multiple human rights violations, I shall not mention the country’s name so as to limit their sportswashing. That’s the compromise I’m making, but I understand if others think this is not enough and want to completely ignore the competition.

Anyway, so what’s going on so far sports wise? Well, we’re in the last rounds of qualifications for most confederations and things are heating up. Let’s do a round up of each:

Asia (AFC)

How does it work? 

AFC qualifying is separated in 2 groups: A and B. 4.5 teams qualify: the top two of each group qualify directly, while the third places will face in a single game playoff in June to then decide who faces against a team from CONMEBOL (South America) for the last spot.

Current standings

Group A

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts Qualification
1  Iran (Q) 8 7 1 0 13 2 +11 22 Qualification to 2022 FIFA World Cup 1–1 1–0 29 Mar 1–0 1–0
2  South Korea (Q) 8 6 2 0 11 2 +9 20 24 Mar 1–0 1–0 0–0 2–1
3  United Arab Emirates (Y) 8 2 3 3 6 6 0 9 Advance to fourth round 0–1 29 Mar 0–0 2–2 2–0
4  Lebanon (Y) 8 1 3 4 5 8 −3 6 1–2 0–1 0–1 1–1 24 Mar
5  Iraq (Y) 8 0 5 3 4 11 −7 5 0–3 0–3 24 Mar 0–0 1–1
6  Syria (E) 8 0 2 6 5 15 −10 2 0–3 0–2 1–1 2–3 29 Mar
(E) Eliminated; (Q) Qualified to the phase indicated; (Y) Cannot qualify directly, may only advance to fourth round
Group B
Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts Qualification
1  Saudi Arabia (X) 8 6 1 1 10 5 +5 19 Qualification to 2022 FIFA World Cup 1–0 29 Mar 1–0 3–2 3–1
2  Japan (X) 8 6 0 2 9 3 +6 18 2–0 2–1 0–1 2–0 29 Mar
3  Australia (X) 8 4 3 1 15 6 +9 15 Advance to fourth round 0–0 24 Mar 3–1 3–0 4–0
4  Oman (E) 8 2 2 4 8 10 −2 8 0–1 0–1 2–2 29 Mar 3–1
5  China PR (E) 8 1 2 5 8 16 −8 5 24 Mar 0–1 1–1 1–1 3–2
6  Vietnam (E) 8 1 0 7 7 17 −10 3 0–1 0–1 0–1 24 Mar 3–1
(E) Eliminated; (X) Assured of at least fourth round, can still qualify directly. Tables referenced from wikipedia

Who’s in? The hosts (automatically qualified), Iran and South Korea

Who’s out? Syria, Oman, China and Vietnam

What’s next?

The AFC qualifiers are in their 3rd round, with the last two matchdays on March 24th and 29th. From group A, direct qualifying spots have already been decided with Iran and South Korea clinching them. The playoff spot is still up for grabs, with UAE, Lebanon and Iraq still having a shot. UAE is in the commanding seat and a win against Iraq on the 24th will secure them the spot.

In group B nothing has been decided yet, while 3 teams are already out, the top three: Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia are battling it out for direct qualifying as nobody really wants to face CONMEBOL. Australia has the roughest two last matches, while also having their fate in their hands facing Japan on the 24th and Saudi Arabia on the 29th

Any surprises?

Not really, the usual suspects are almost in, Japan took a while to get things going but now they’re second in their group while China continues to be atrocious in qualifiers (who would have thought that banning tattoos wasn’t gonna be the answer?)

Africa (CAF)

How does it work?

After a grueling second round consisting of 10 groups of 4 teams, the winners of each group are now playing, after random draw, in a home and away fixture on the 25th and 29th of March. The 5 winners of each fixture qualify directly, there’s no other chance.

Who’s in? Nobody yet, everything gets decided on March 29th

Who’s out? The biggest casualty of the second round was probably Ivory Coast who lost a life or death match against Cameroon in the last matchday. In this round though, we could have a lot of big teams fail.

What’s next?

Everything gets decided with the following home and away matches

Team 1 Team 2 1st leg 2nd leg
Egypt   Senegal 25 March 29 March
Cameroon   Algeria 25 March 29 March
Ghana   Nigeria 25 March 29 March
DR Congo   Morocco 25 March 29 March
Mali   Tunisia 25 March 29 March
Table referenced from wikipedia

Egypt v Senegal has taken most of the limelight with Salah and Mane facing against each other while having to share a dressing room at Liverpool. Senegal should be the favorite, given that they have a more complete team.

For the rest, I’d put my money on Algeria, Nigeria and Morocco, while the Mali v Tunisia match is harder to predict with Mali trying to clinch their first ever World Cup spot.

Any surprises? 

The aforementioned Mali had a fairly easy group in the second round and now got one of the weakest teams on the final draw, it’s now or never for them. Other than that, DR Congo is trying to qualify again since Spain ’82 facing a strong Moroccan side, only thing on The Leopards favor is that Morocco is in disarray, with two of their best players (Chelsea’s Ziyech and Ajax’s Mazroui) rejecting the call up.

North America (CONCACAF)

How does it work?

Usually the last round of CONCACAF qualifiers it’s a 6 team home and away free for all nicknamed The Hex (from hexagonal). This time around, due to certain pandemic, it’s an 8 team free for all, an Octagonal if you will. 3.5 teams qualify: the top three teams will qualify directly, with the fourth place facing an inter-confederation playoff with the Oceania winner (most assuredly New Zealand)

Current standings

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts Qualification
1  Canada (X) 11 7 4 0 19 5 +14 25 Qualification to 2022 FIFA World Cup 2–0 2–1 4–1 1–0 3–0 27 Mar 1–1
2  United States 11 6 3 2 16 7 +9 21 1–1 2–0 27 Mar 2–1 1–0 2–0 3–0
3  Mexico 11 6 3 2 14 8 +6 21 1–1 24 Mar 1–0 0–0 30 Mar 2–1 3–0
4  Panama 11 5 2 4 14 13 +1 17 Advance to inter-confederation play-offs 30 Mar 1–0 1–1 0–0 2–1 3–2 24 Mar
5  Costa Rica 11 4 4 3 8 7 +1 16 24 Mar 30 Mar 0–1 1–0 2–1 1–1 2–1
6  El Salvador (Y) 11 2 3 6 6 13 −7 9 0–2 0–0 0–2 1–0 27 Mar 1–1 0–0
7  Jamaica (E) 11 1 4 6 9 16 −7 7 0–0 1–1 1–2 0–3 0–1 24 Mar 30 Mar
8  Honduras (E) 11 0 3 8 5 22 −17 3 0–2 1–4 27 Mar 2–3 0–0 0–2 0–2
(E) Eliminated; (X) Assured of at least inter-confederation play-offs, can still qualify directly; (Y) Cannot qualify directly, may only advance to inter-confederation play-offs. Table referenced from wikipedia

Who’s in? Surprisingly, nobody yet, more surprisingly the top team currently is Canada, that has ensured at least the 4th place.

Who’s out? Jamaica and Honduras are already out. Jamaica had a really rough start, specially with COVID stranding their best players in England, and never found their groove. While Honduras has been a shitshow, with fired coaches and horrible results home and away.

What’s next?

Every team has 3 matches left in the 24th, 27th and 30th of March and a lot of things can happen which would take too long to explain and involves math so let’s not go too deep into that. Anyway, of the teams remaining, the hardest schedule is probably USA, which has to face Mexico and Costa Rica away and Panama at home (in Orlando, which is better than trying to freeze opponents to almost death). Mexico, besides the US, has to face an already eliminated Honduras and an almost eliminated El Salvador. Canada has Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama, needing only a win to qualify which could happen at home against Jamaica.

Given this, things could go south really quickly for the USMNT if they don’t secure some points away and while Mexico is not in their best shape (with some folks calling for Martino’s firing before this qualifying window and Jimenez having some unfair problems at Wolves), the Azteca is still the Azteca, with his diminished crowd but not diminished altitude nor pollution. Still, I believe the top three will be Canada, Mexico and the USA, which just the positioning remaining. Although, Panama and Costa Rica will really cherish getting one of the historic top two out of the World Cup.

Any surprises?

On the good side, Canada, which is probably not only going to qualify to their second World Cup ever since Mexico ’86, but will probably lead the pack; and El Salvador which, even though they barely still have a chance, have really improved this time.

On the other end, Honduras has been atrocious and Costa Rica, while still having a decent chance to qualify, has an aging squad that’s barely holding in.

South America (CONMEBOL)

How does it work?

CONMEBOL’s qualifiers are the easiest ones format wise, they just play everyone against everyone home and away in a single group, no other rounds. 4.5 teams qualify: the top 4 qualify directly, while the 5th will face in the inter-conference playoff against Asia.

Current standings

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts Qualification
1  Brazil (Q) 15 12 3 0 32 5 +27 39 Qualification to 2022 FIFA World Cup
2  Argentina (Q) 15 10 5 0 23 7 +16 35
3  Ecuador (X) 16 7 4 5 25 15 +10 25
4  Uruguay 16 6 4 6 19 22 −3 22
5  Peru 16 6 3 7 17 21 −4 21 Advance to inter-confederation play-offs
6  Chile 16 5 4 7 19 20 −1 19
7  Colombia 16 3 8 5 16 19 −3 17
8  Bolivia (Y) 16 4 3 9 23 35 −12 15
9  Paraguay (E) 16 2 7 7 9 23 −14 13
10  Venezuela (E) 16 3 1 12 14 30 −16 10
(E) Eliminated; (Q) Qualified to the phase indicated; (X) Assured of at least inter-confederation play-offs, can still qualify directly; (Y) Cannot qualify directly, may only advance to inter-confederation play-offs. Table referenced from wikipedia

Who’s in? Unsurprisingly, Brazil and Argentina are in, while Ecuador has at least ensured a playoff spot and needs only one point out of 6 to qualify directly.

Who’s out? Paraguay and Venezuela, with Bolivia just barely mathematically hanging on

What’s next?

With only two matchdays remaining in the 24th and 29th of March one would think things will be clearer by now, but surprisingly they are not. There’s also a pending game between Argentina and Brazil that had to be suspended after certain COVID shenanigans involving Brazil health officials going into the pitch to remove some Argentinian players. Thankfully, this game has no bearing on qualifying, because if not oh boy, what an even bigger shitshow that would have been.

Of the unqualified teams, Uruguay has two crucial matches against Peru and Chile that will most certainly define the 4th spot. With both Uruguay and Peru having to win their last two matches to secure direct qualification without depending on other results. Although, 4 points by Uruguay almost certainly put them in.

Meanwhile, the heavily underwhelming and free falling Colombia, who haven’t scored in qualifiers since September last year and already sacked a coach, have two fairly easy fixtures against Bolivia and Venezuela which can turn their whole luck around, but will need to wait for other results to go their way, with a win by Peru or Chile basically leaving them out.

Bolivia’s mathematical chances are even worse, needing to win against Colombia and freaking Brazil and then probably a meteorite strike.

Any surprises?

Ecuador have been fantastic and they are basically clinched here, while Colombia has just completely imploded and now need to get things going and wait for results to barely have a chance

Europe (UEFA)

How does it work?

Hey, remember how I said the CONMEBOL qualifying was the simplest one? Well, UEFA is the complete opposite. In the first round they had all the 55 teams in 10 groups, with certain conditions for their seeding, and the winners of each group qualified directly. In the second round, which is the current one, there’s three spots remaining which are done thru three paths (A, B, C) each with 4 teams and two rounds: semifinal and final. Those 12 teams are, as ESPN explains it, “the 10 group runner ups plus the two best-ranked group winners from the 2020-21 UEFA Nations League who did not finish in the top two in their qualifying group: Austria and Czech Republic”. The UEFA Nations Cup falls outside the scope of this paper.

Who’s in? Germany, Denmark, Belgium, France, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, England, Switzerland, Netherlands

Who’s out? a ton of teams, but some standouts are (lovable underdogs) Iceland, Bosnia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Norway (Haaland and all).

What’s next?

Well, current world events have made things a bit complicated. With FIFA first telling Russia that they could not compete under the Russian flag for the time being and then, a day later, straight up expelling them from the rest of the competition (making Poland advance to their final by default). While, on the other side, Ukraine had their match against Scotland postponed, most probably until the next window in June.

The paths are as follow. Referenced from wikipedia:

Path A

Team 1 Team 2
Semi-finals
Scotland  Jun (SF1)  Ukraine
Wales  24 Mar (SF2)  Austria
Final
Winner semi-final 2 Jun Winner semi-final 1

This is probably the closest of these paths with no real powerhouse. Austria has been really underwhelming (finishing fourth in their group) and are only here due to Nations League points, so I would put my money on Wales. On the other match, Ukraine is, well, in the middle of more pressing matters so it’s impossible to predict what could happen in June, although Scotland did fairly well in the group stages and would like to come back to a World Cup since France ’98. Of course, Ukraine winning would make for a better story.

Path B

Team 1 Team 2
Semi-finals
Russia  Cancelled  Poland
Sweden  24 Mar (SF4)  Czech Republic
Final
Poland  29 Mar Winner semi-final 4

As mentioned before, Poland is already in the final while Sweden and Czech Republic will decide the other one. I would say Sweden are probably the ones to beat here as, even if the God Zlatan is suspended, there’s still Elanga and Isak which are probably the future of this squad being 19 and 22 respectively. Or course, Lewandoski is still on the other side and he’s always a threat. On the other hand, their coach just quit at the end of the year to join Flamengo

Path C

Team 1 Team 2
Semi-finals
Italy  24 Mar (SF5)  North Macedonia
Portugal  24 Mar (SF6)  Turkey
Final
Winner semi-final 6 29 Mar Winner semi-final 5

Everyone’s been talking about this path as either Portugal or Italy will miss the World Cup and it’s almost a certainty they will face each other on this final. Italy is mostly in this instance because they tied against Switzerland in both of their head to head matches. With Chelsea’s Jorginho missing penalties in both games. One at the 89th minute, no pressure there. Italy is so worried about this that their football federation requested Serie A to suspend matches so they had more time to prepare, they refused and probably laughed them out of the room.

Portugal also missed in his two matches against their group winners Serbia, first drawing 2-2 with a Ronaldo disallowed goal in the 90th minute (after which Ronaldo threw his captain’s armband into the ground) and then losing the second match 2-1 with a goal from a completely unmarked Mitrovic at the 90th minute. So both teams only have themselves to blame and now are in way more trouble than they anticipated. I mean, unless the Cinderella North Macedonia has other plans (even without the historic Goran Pandev) or, I guess, Turkey.

Any surprises?

Biggest ones has been the fact that either Portugal and Italy will not go to the World Cup, two of the biggest teams on the planet and the last two Euro champions. Other than that, you got North Macedonia, that after qualifying to the Euro in 2020 are trying to do the same for the World Cup. Of course that would require them beating Italy and Portugal… so probably not.

Oceania (OFC)

They only get half a ticket and it’s gonna be New Zealand who then will face against the 4th place of CONCACAF in June. Interesting tidbit is that their qualifiers are being played in the host country due to COVID. Vanuatu has already withdrawn of the competition due to the pandemic.

Conclusion

A lot is at play this week and it will be exciting. If only the tournament wasn’t held by one of the most corrupt organizations in one of the countries with the worst human rights violations record in the world. In conclusion, the World Cup is a land of contrasts, thank you.