Race to World Cup: Portugal, Italy, Spain have work to do


With two rounds remaining in European World Cup qualifying, the race is hotting up for a place at Qatar 2022.

In October Germany became the first country to book a place at the finals, quickly followed by Denmark. That leaves eight automatic qualification spots still up for grabs for group winners, along with 10 playoff places for the group runners-up.

UEFA World Cup playoff system explained
World Cup 2022 qualifying: How it works around the world

Here’s the state of play across all 10 groups.

Nov. 11: Azerbaijan vs. Luxembourg, Republic of Ireland vs. Portugal
Nov. 14: Luxembourg vs. Republic of Ireland, Portugal vs. Serbia

The group is a straight battle between Serbia (17 points) and Portugal (16 points). Portugal have a game in hand, away to Ireland, and they need a point to keep the group in their own hands.

If Cristiano Ronaldo‘s team can win or draw in Dublin, they will only need to avoid defeat at home to Serbia to qualify automatically. Lose to Ireland, and Portugal must beat Serbia.

Serbia know that in all likelihood they will have to win in Lisbon to overtake Portugal and avoid the playoffs.

Nov. 11: Georgia vs. Sweden, Greece vs. Spain
Nov. 14: Greece vs. Kosovo, Spain vs. Sweden

Only Sweden (15 points) and Spain (13 points) can win group.

Sweden can qualify on Nov. 11 if they win in Georgia and Spain fail to beat Greece, but if both countries win then it will come down to the meeting between the two in Seville — and Sweden would need to avoid defeat to top the group and go direct to the World Cup, consigning Spain to the playoffs.

Greece still retain a chance of the playoffs, but would need to beat Spain and Kosovo and hope Spain fail to beat Sweden.

Spain are guaranteed a playoff spot if they finish outside the top two as UEFA Nations League runners-up.

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Nov. 12: Italy vs. Switzerland, Northern Ireland vs. Lithuania
Nov. 15: Northern Ireland vs. Italy, Switzerland vs. Bulgaria

Another group with just two teams left in contention, Italy and Switzerland locked on 14 points.

Italy top the group by virtue of having a better goal difference, but by only two goals.

The two nations meet in Rome on Nov. 12, and if there’s a winner in that match they will then need a point in the final game to qualify for the World Cup.

If Italy and Switzerland draw, then the Swiss will need to either better Italy’s result on the final day, or win by at least two more goals to draw level on goal difference.

If Italy and Switzerland finish level on points and goal difference (and goals scored), it goes down to head to head. If it’s a scoring draw in Rome, Switzerland win the head to head. If it’s a goalless draw in Rome, first and second will be decided on disciplinary record.

Nov. 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 nations still in contention.

France (12 points) top the group and will seal their place at the World Cup with a win over Kazakhstan.

Ukraine (9 points) sit in second but, without a game on Nov. 13, may not be there when they travel to Bosnia on the final day. They have only one game remaining, meaning they can only top the group if France lose both games next month. With Finland to play France on Nov. 14, the likelihood is a win over Bosnia may be enough to secure second place.

Finland (8 points) and Bosnia (7 points) meet each other on Nov. 11, and the result of this game will set out exactly what is required for second in the last pair of games.

Nov. 13: Belgium vs. Estonia, Wales vs. Belarus
Nov. 16: Czech Republic vs. Estonia, Wales vs. Belgium

Belgium (16 points) are guaranteed to finish in the top two, and need a win at home to Estonia to secure qualification. They would also qualify if Wales fail to beat Belarus in Cardiff.

The real battle is for second, with Czech Republic and Wales on 14 points. Wales are third on goal difference (two goals worse off than the Czechs) but have a game in hand (at home to Belarus). Wales will need to make the most of that game, because they host Belgium in their final qualifier. If Wales beat Belarus, they would need to avoid defeat against Belgium to secure second.

If Wales lose at home to Belgium, then the door is open for Czech Republic to finish second on goal difference with a win over Estonia.

Whoever finishes third are likely to take a playoff spot through UEFA Nations League performance, though they would be unseeded in the draw.

UEFA World Cup playoff system explained

Nov. 12: Austria vs. Israel, Denmark vs. Faroe Islands, Moldova vs. Scotland
Nov. 15: Austria vs. Moldova, Israel vs. Faroe Islands, Scotland vs. Denmark

Denmark have qualified with a 100% record, which leaves a direct fight for second between Scotland (17) and Israel (13).

Scotland will be through to the playoffs with a win in Moldova, or if Israel fail to win in Austria.

But if it goes down to the final round then Israel have hope, with Scotland up against Denmark.

Austria are out of contention for the top two, but have a very good chance of getting into the playoffs as a UEFA Nations League group winner.

Nov. 13: Norway vs. Latvia, Turkey vs. Gibraltar, Montenegro vs. Netherlands
Nov. 16: Gibraltar vs. Latvia, Montenegro vs. Turkey, Netherlands vs. Norway

A tight group in which three nations still have realistic hopes of qualifying.

Netherlands (19 points) lead the way and know that two wins send them to the World Cup. They can also qualify with a win on Nov. 13 if Norway fail to beat Latvia.

Norway (17 points) are still very much in contention, and if they beat Latvia it will come down to the meeting with Netherlands in Rotterdam on the final day. If Norway and Netherlands both win on Nov. 13, Norway would need a victory in the Netherlands to top the group, and they are far from safe for second.

Turkey (15 points) have hope due to Norway having to travel to play Netherlands. If Turkey win both their remaining games, they will finish second if Norway drop any points.

Montenegro (11 points) still have a mathematical chance of second, but nothing more than that and it would require Turkey failing to beat Gibraltar.

Nov. 11: Russia vs. Cyprus, Malta vs. Croatia, Slovakia vs. Slovenia
Nov. 14: 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 Nov. 11 if they win at home to Cyprus and Croatia fail to beat Malta, though the likelihood is both teams will win.

That leaves a straight shootout in Split in Nov. 14 when Croatia host Russia. Croatia would need to win to climb above their visitors and win the group.

Nov. 12: Andorra vs. Poland, England vs. Albania, Hungary vs. San Marino
Nov. 15: Albania vs. Andorra, Poland vs. Hungary, San Marino vs. England

England (20 points) are limping over the line somewhat but should still qualify without any issues. A win at home to Albania on Nov. 12 will send them to the World Cup if Poland (17 points) fail to beat Andorra, though that seems unlikely. Even if England were to lose at home to Albania (and Poland beat Andorra), they would have a final game against San Marino to bolster their goal difference against the Poles (currently +4 to England).

Albania (15 points) will realistically have to win at Wembley to keep their hopes alive, anything else and they will almost certainly be out of contention before the last day.

Hungary (11 points) have a mathematical chance, but they would need Poland to lose in Andorra and turnaround a goal difference deficit of 13 with the Poles.

Nov. 11: Armenia vs. North Macedonia, Germany vs. Liechtenstein, Romania vs. Iceland
Nov. 14: Armenia vs. Germany, Liechtenstein vs. Romania, North Macedonia vs. Iceland

With Germany already having secured their place, it’s a four-way battle for the playoff spot.

Romania (13 points) have it in their own hands, and will effectively secure second with a win at home to Iceland with only Liechtenstein to play on the final day.

North Macedonia and Armenia (12 points) go head to head on Nov. 11, and a winner would have qualification in their own hands should Romania fail to beat Iceland. However, Armenia must play Germany in their last match, which would make it very difficult for them to hold on to second.

Iceland (8 points) are not out of it, but their chances are slim. They would need to win both of their games, hope Armenia vs. North Macedonia is a draw and both Armenia and Romania fail to win their last game.


The 10 runners-up from the groups are joined by the best two UEFA Nations League group winners not to have finished in the top two of their qualifying group.

Based upon the UEFA Nations League group winners who can still finish outside the two top, the order of preference for a playoff place is: France, Spain, Wales, Austria, Czech Republic.

As Austria, and either Wales or Czech Republic, are guaranteed to finish outside the top two in their group, no other country is in contention for one of the two additional places.

The playoffs, to be played in March 2022. will be seeded by qualifying points, with the two UEFA Nations League teams unseeded.

Seeded teams will be drawn at home against unseeded teams in one-legged semifinals.

There will then be an open draw for the three playoff finals, which again will be one-off games, to decide the last places.

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