The Global Final Push To Reach The 2022 World Cup In Qatar

Around the globe there are many more places to be had, issues to be resolved and agonies to be gone through
14:05, 16 Mar 2022

With crucial World Cup qualifiers looming, the focus in Europe with ten teams already qualified has been mainly whether Italy, Portugal or both fail to get to Qatar; the situation regarding the suspended Russia; and at least in the UK the prospects of Scotland and Wales making the Finals. In Scotland’s case, this of course is further complicated by the current terrible plight of Ukraine. 

But around the globe there are so many more places to be had, issues to be resolved and agonies to be gone through. The picture is clearest in Africa, where following close on the heels of the Cup of Nations in Cameroon, won for the first time by Senegal on penalties from Egypt, there are five heavyweight winner-takes-all, two-leg play-off ties for a place in Qatar. 

Egypt and Liverpool’s Mo Salah have an immediate chance of revenge against Sadio Mane’s Taranga Lions, with the matches to be played on March 25th and 29th, while Algeria with all their talent and firepower including Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani will be desperate to make amends here for a dire Afcon, finishing bottom of their initial pool…and they take on Cameroon.

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Nigeria, also blessed with a powerful-looking squad, flattered to deceive in Cameroon after a fine start and the Super Eagles face Ghana, while DR Congo - who have not qualified for the World Cup finals since 1974 – must get past the more fancied Morocco. In the last tie, Mali with Brighton’s coveted midfielder Yves Bissouma pulling the strings, are up against Tunisia. 

The surprise leaders in the Concacaf region are Canada - and The Sportsman will look at the exploits of the Canucks in more detail soon - in a section traditionally dominated by Mexico and the USA. Canada have been helped by a first win over Mexico in more than 20 years. But all three are in good shape to take the three automatic places from the final group, with Panama and set to fight it out for the play-off place against the Oceania winners for a Finals place. 

In the South American Conmebol region, Brazil and Argentina are already there leaving two automatic places available – and a further chance for the fifth-placed country, who get to play off against the fifth-best Asian nation. Ecuador and Uruguay are in pole position with Peru currently in the play-off place – but with the remaining fixtures even Colombia, in seventh in the standings, might fancy their chances of sneaking into the mix with two relatively easy games left. 

Asia has Qatar there already as hosts, and in the two groups of six being played out the top two in each will qualify automatically, with the two third-placed nations playing each other first, for the right to face the fifth-placed team from South America. Iran and South Korea are already safely through, with Saudi Arabia and Japan the favourites to join them.  

Australia, in that same latter group, have a chance of gate-crashing the automatic places but must play the Saudis and Japan in their last two matches. United Arab Emirates could be waiting for them in the play-off if they don’t make it. With an obviously tough match awaiting whoever emerges against a strong South American team, the incentive to sneak an automatic place – especially for Australia – is clear. 

The next phase of games, though, begins in the convoluted Oceania Conference, where eight nations in two groups of four will produce a top two in each, who will then contest semi-finals and a final, with the eventual winner playing off against the fourth placed team in the Concacaf Conference for a spot at the Finals. These matches are being played in Qatar. 

With Australia now competing in the Asia section, New Zealand are favourites to come through and go forward. But that near-certainty has been undermined by the scheduling of these games, the first games of which are outside the recognised Fifa international window and therefore not requiring clubs to release players.

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When still a Burnley player, Newcastle and Kiwis forward Chris Wood slammed the timing of the first March group games as “ridiculous”. The other seven nations, including the Solomon Islands, Tahiti, New Caledonia and Fiji,  were more agreeable - knowing it could harm the All Whites most. As it happens Newcastle have no game at the weekend, so New Zealand will want him there as quickly as possible after the game against Everton on Thursday.  

New Zealand, who qualified for the finals in 1982 and in 2010, face Papua New Guinea on Friday, with the Cook Islands against the Solomon Islands getting this vital next set of qualifying games under way on March 17th.

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