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- Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador have started impressively in South America
- Syria flies in Asia as several heavyweights fight
- Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire are in Africa’s death group
The qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ™ was hit by a number of organizational challenges in 2020. But with the action now underway in South America and draws held by UEFA, CAF and CONCACAF, the road to the global final has begun to take shape in every union. FIFA.com looks at the situation in each of the regions.
The year started with the draw for the second qualifying round, which included the 14 winners from the first round and Africa’s 26 highest ranked teams in the FIFA / Coca-Cola world rankings.
These initial victories included Guinea-Bissau, who made history by finally passing the first hurdle in their home-and-away competition with Sao Tome and Principe. As for Djibouti, they only sealed their second place ever in round two by watching by Eswatini – and avoiding an away game for the first time in a World Cup qualifier at the seventh attempt. Elsewhere, Emilio Nsue made headlines with the crucial goal of Equatorial Guinea, while Gerald Phiri was awarded a penalty Malawi and 18-year-old Ashley Williams saved a spot-kick in extra time for Liberiaand helped them push through with a 1-0 defeat in Sierra Leone after their 3-1 triumph at home.
The 40 remaining participants are now divided into ten groups. The ten group winners advance to the third round, where they are paired together in five home-and-away ties. The winners of these five bands will qualify for Qatar 2022.
Reigning African champions Algeria seems to be the clear favorites in Group A, while a big name is guaranteed to miss the final after Cameroon and Ivory Coast were both drawn in group D. It is a similar story in group G, where at least one of Ghana gold South Africa is destined to see the global showcase far from it. As for Senegal and their star forward Sadio Mane, the African footballer of the year in 2019, will look to make his talent count against Congo, Namibia and previous world championships Go.
The second qualifying round has already passed the halfway stage among the 40 teams divided into eight groups. So far, continental heavyweights Australia and Japan have shocked few by claiming a perfect record from their four games, however Syria has made it even better with five wins in five games.
Famous faces at the World Cup final, Saudi Arabia and Republic of Korea have found it more difficult, even though both are well located. The Green Falcons are now one point behind Uzbekistan but boasts a game in hand while the Taegeuk Warriors will have to roll up their sleeves to keep up with surprising Group H leaders Turkmenistan. The situation looks more difficult IR Iran, which are as low as third in Group C and have virtually no room for error.
The eight group winners and the four best winners advance to the third round, where they are drawn in two groups of six teams. The top two in each section will secure tickets for Qatar 2022, while the two third-placed sides will meet in a play-off to determine Asia’s last qualifying team.
After four games, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions – and yet some obvious trends have already emerged. At the top of the list is Brazil‘s dominant start thanks to four wins from four away, their defense has only conceded twice while hitting 12 goals at the other end. And this despite the fact that coach Tite needs to cope with injuries to Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho. I Seleçao are now undefeated in their last 21 World Cup qualifiers and look set to extend their record for having been in all 21 editions of the last tournament.
Argentina is not far behind after sending three wins and a draw, and has also sent only two goals, putting them on par with Brazil as the continent’s hardest side to break. Their campaign so far has also highlighted Lautaro Martinez’s talent up front, which could help coach Lionel Scaloni ease any reliance on Lionel Messi.
Third place in the table belongs Ecuador, meanwhile, the surprisingly dark horses that have recovered from a 1-0 loss away to Argentina in Gustavo Alfaro’s first lead. Since then, he has transformed himself Sorting into a goal-scoring machine that produces a 4-2 win over Uruguay, a 6-1 defeat for Colombia and a first win in Bolivia since 2009. Ecuador will, however, resist being carried away, but after winning their first four matches on the way to Russia 2018 before it finally falls short.
The best of the rest:
- Fourth and still undefeated after three draws and one win, Paraguay has taken advantage of Angel Romero’s goal-scoring skill and his number of four strikes.
- Luis Suarez from Uruguay has also helped himself to a quartet of goals that hooked each of them from the penalty spot. Celeste is now fifth after two wins and two defeats.
- After returning to the finals in 2018, Peru hopes to repeat the experience in 2022. Ricardo Gareca’s men have a fight on their hands but only pick up one point from their first four games.
- Colombia is three points better off, but a 3-0 defeat from Uruguay and a 6-1 reversal against Ecuador led to Carlos Queiroz becoming the first coach to lose his job during the South American qualifiers.
- Despite having undergone a period of transition, Reinaldo Ruedas Chile still being driven forward by their veteran players, where their six goals are shared between Arturo Vidal (four) and Alexis Sanchez (two).
- The dream for Venezuela must finally throw the mark for being the only CONMEBOL nation not yet qualifying for a World Cup final. Placing hope in more members of the team that finished second at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup Vinotinto achieved their first victory in their fourth match.
- Bolivia went into the qualifiers with few illusions about their chances, but they hoped at least to get the home advantage to count. Unfortunately, Green have lost both their games in La Paz and support the table.
North, Central America and the Caribbean
Although the qualifying match is yet to begin in earnest, the draw for the first round took place in August. Based on the FIFA / Coca-Cola world rankings in July 2020, CONCACAF’s 30 lowest ranked pages were divided into six different groups.
The six group winners meet in three predetermined home-and-away bands – and the winners of these joists then fight the third round together with the five highest-ranked CONCACAF teams in the same FIFA Ranking (Costa Rica, USA, Honduras, Jamaica and Mexico) . These eight sides will play against each other at home and away in a round-robin format, and the top three nations will qualify for Qatar 2022, while the fourth-placed team will contest an intercontinental play-off.
Qualifications have also not started in Europe, where a draw on 7 December paved the way.
The ten group winners automatically qualify for Qatar 2022, and the top ten finishers take part in the play-offs, which also include the top two group winners from the UEFA Nations League 2020/21, who have not already qualified for the final or play-offs. These 12 teams will be divided into three qualifying tracks, with knockout bands determining the three remaining European sides to reach the World Cup.
There have also been no qualifying matches between OFC’s 11 member associations: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu. The region’s top side after the qualifying match will struggle with an intercontinental final.