FIFA has confirmed the one-off international playoff for the remaining two spots in World Cup 2022, whereas in European playoff, two favorites, Italy and Portugal would have to fight over one berth to Qatar.
The world football governing body has just completed the draw on Friday in Zurich. It involves four slots for the international playoffs. They are the fourth team in the standing of CONCACAF final qualifier, the fifth team sitting on CONMEBOL table, the winner of best third teams in AFC final qualifying round and the winner of Oceania qualifier. The CONCACAF team is facing off OFC team while the South American side is meeting the Asian side. These matches will take place on June 13-14, 2022 in Qatar. So, which teams are likely in the mix next summer?
The North American qualifiers has only completed their eight games, meaning that each team still has six more fixture to find out who will have to go down in the playoffs. Currently, Canada is leading the standing followed by USA, Mexico and Panama. They are all only separated by two points. Meanwhile, Costa Rica on the fifth is still five points adrift from Panama. It will definitely be a thrilling race for the top three to avoid the playoff path. Alphonse Davies and Co must be careful since they still have four away games, two of which are against Mexico and Panama. Canada has not been able to clinch a single win on the road. Once they lose, a bumpy road to Qatar awaits them.
Currently, there are five teams involved in a battle for one and a half spot. Colombia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia are still holding on with four games remaining. Judging from their last four fixtures, Colombia and Peru have a better chance to qualify directly and playoff respectively. Ricardo Gareca's side also went through the same route to World Cup 2018 final round.
In Asian qualifying round, all teams have four matches remaining to find out who shall progress to Qatar automatically. In group A, Iran and South Korea are relatively safe on the top two. The one currently sitting on the third, UEA, have to compete with Lebanon and Iraq to keep their place. Bert Van Marwijk's side has been already eight points adrift from Son Heung Min and Co on the second but only have two points difference from their contenders. Their decisive games are at home against Korea and the away fixture versus Iran. Once they slip, UEA would lose their hope to play their second ever world cup after 1990 edition.
In group B, Australia and Japan must win in the last four games to avoid the longer path to Qatar. The Socceroos have less home game than The Blue Samurai. Their fate will be determined when both sides encounter on March 24. Whichever team sits on the third, will be meeting the third one in group A before facing off the CONMEBOL team.
New Zealand is the most likely team to take on the CONCACAF team at the playoffs.
The last two EURO champions, Italy and Portugal are sadly drawn in the same path to fight over one spot in Qatar 2022. It means one of the giants will certainly miss the World Cup. Gli Azzurri is set to meet North Macedonia while CR7 and Co have to face off Turkey at the semifinals. If all goes well, it would be the most unwanted playoff final since World Cup without either Italy or Cristiano Ronaldo in it will not be the same.
The tight affair is inevitable in the other two paths. Wales and Scotland are drawn in the same route. They would have to ease past Austria and Ukraine before meeting in the summit for one berth. In the meantime, Russia encounters Poland while Sweden is taking on Czech Republic. The winner of each game will face off in the summit.
Last but not least, Africa has reportedly decided to keep the two-legged playoffs for their five tickets despite considering to modify it to one-off games in Qatar. CAF will draw the playoffs in January 2022.