In Zurich, FIFA will proceed Friday, both to the draw for the European play-offs, scheduled for the end of March, but also in the wake of the draw for the intercontinental play-offs which will pit an Asian team against one another in June. Central and North America, a third from South America and finally a selection from Oceania.
Teams already qualified for the World Cup
Germany, England, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Spain, France, Serbia, Switzerland, Netherlands. These teams each finished at the top of their qualifying group.
Hat 1: Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Wales, Russia, Sweden
Hat 2: Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey, North Macedonia
The twelve play-offs are divided into three mini-tournaments of four teams, with semi-finals and final in a dry match. The winners of each ‘lane’ (A, B, or C, in UEFA jargon) will qualify for the World Cup.
Each semi-final opposes a team from the first hat to one from the second. It takes place on the field of the first hat team.
An additional draw will be organized to determine which team will play the final at home.
Russia and Ukraine cannot find themselves on the same path, for geopolitical reasons.
In Europe, three tickets remain to be filled for the twelve late selections who failed to finish at the top of their qualifying group. To see Qatar (November 21 – December 18, 2022), they will have to win, at the end of March (March 24 and 29), one of three mini-tournaments with four played on dry matches, with semi-finals then final, a perilous format. which prohibits the slightest defeat.
« Something stuck »
The tension has risen a notch, even among the reigning European champions, the Italians, who since their coronation in July, have been overcome by the fear of not qualifying for the World Cup, as in 2018. “Unconsciously, something got stuck,” admitted defender Leonardo Bonucci. Second in her group behind Switzerland, the « Nazionale » recalls today the trauma of four years ago, when Sweden had blocked her way to the World Cup in Russia during the play-offs, then played under another format, in back and forth duels.
Like Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal trembles before the draw, his morale being weighed down by the controversy around coach Fernando Santos. The Portuguese press designated him as No. 1 responsible for the defeat against Serbia (2-1), on the last day, which condemned the winners of Euro 2016 to go through the dams. But Portugal has the experience of these meetings on a thread, having qualified in 2010 and 2014 by this way.
« Good players to beat a great team in one match »
The two cadors have the assurance of playing their semi-final at home, thanks to their team status in the first hat. But they can meet in the final … or fall on another selection broken at this level, like Sweden, quarter-finalist of the World Cup in 2018. If the « Blagul » (Blue and Yellow) disappointed during the ‘Euro, with an elimination in the eighth against Ukraine, it is a transformed team that should play in March, with the return of his talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic (40), injured last summer.
“Ibra” is one of the big scarecrows in this draw, as is Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored eight goals in the playoffs. The star of Bayern Munich is all the more afraid that his selection appears in the second hat, being therefore a potential opponent from the half for Italy or Portugal.
Even away, « we have enough good players to beat a great team in one game, » assured Poland coach Paulo Sousa of Portugal. This one would perhaps prefer to fall on a more modest seed, like Wales, which has not played in the World Cup since 1958, Russia, or Scotland, which did not shine at the Euro.
« A challenge for which we will fight »
Ukraine, Turkey and the Czech Republic, all in the second hat, also look with envy on these potential opponents, with the ambition to play the spoilsport of these « four-way finals ». “It’s for the World Cup, we have to meet the (big) teams. It’s a challenge for which we will fight, ”said Czech defender Jakub Brabec, who recalled that his selection beat Scotland in Glasgow during the Euro (2-0).
Finally, North Macedonia, which discovered the Euro last summer, but has never played in the World Cup, is also knocking on the door, with the status of Petit Poucet. At this point, all dreams are still allowed.
(The essential / AFP)