The three final European places at the FIFA World Cup will be settled by the play-offs, with one-legged semi-finals taking place on Thursday 24 March and two of the three finals scheduled for Tuesday 29 March.
UEFA.com looks ahead to a week of drama.
Wales have made their presence felt at the last two EUROs, but a burning ambition remains to reach their first World Cup since 1958. A string of Welsh greats that includes Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs never got the chance to showcase their talents at the finals and Gareth Bale is desperate not to be added to the list, having admitted these play-offs probably represent his last chance to qualify.
“Coming into my Wales career, the main thing was to play in a major tournament,” said the 32-year-old. “We’ve managed to do that and now, to be able to tick everything off the list, it would be to qualify for a World Cup. It is massive for us and something that all of us players have dreamed of.” Austria will be equally determined, however, having not reached the finals themselves since 1998.
Did you know?
Wales are unbeaten in their last 16 home games, their last defeat coming against Denmark in November 2018.
Finals – Tuesday 29 March 2022
Path B: Poland vs Sweden/Czech Republic (20:45 CET)
Path C: Portugal/Turkey vs Italy/North Macedonia (20:45 CET)
Postponed, date tbc
Path A: Wales/Austria vs Scotland/Ukraine
The 22nd finals in Qatar will be the first World Cup not held in May, June or July; the tournament is instead scheduled for a reduced time frame between 21 November and 18 December. The final draw will be held on Friday 1 April.
The omens are good for Jaroslav Šilhavý’s men as they head to Solna to face the 2018 World Cup quarter-finalists. Though the Czech Republic have not reached the finals since 2006, that last appearance came courtesy of a successful play-off against Scandinavian opposition – Norway succumbing 2-0 on aggregate to Karel Brückner’s side.
The visitors also reached the last eight at UEFA EURO 2020, and Sweden coach Janne Andersson is under no illusion about the task ahead for his side: “They beat the Netherlands in the summer and were knocked out by Denmark. They played a good EURO and are a strong footballing nation. It will be a tough match, but I don’t rate it as tougher or easier than facing any other nation.”
Did you know?
Sweden have won their last nine matches in Solna, scoring 18 goals and conceding only four.
Just the mention of World Cup play-offs is enough to send a chill down the spine of most Italians. The four-time champions failed to reach the finals for the first time since 1958 when eliminated by Sweden in the play-offs last time around, ending a run of 14 consecutive appearances at the big dance. However, the reset prompted by that failure was impressive as Roberto Mancini reinvigorated the nation and led them to glory last summer.
Adjustment will be required by North Macedonia too if they are to inflict another shock exit on the Azzurri, according to their coach Blagoja Milevski: “Italy are the current European champions. They play a different kind of football and it makes things difficult for all their opponents. Now, for us, we have to adapt to the challenge.”
Portugal would probably have been low down on the list of sides Turkey were hoping to draw in these play-offs, especially given the Seleção have won all five competitive meetings between these nations. The last of those came at UEFA EURO 2008, with Pepe opening the scoring in a 2-0 victory in Geneva. History is with the home side, then, but Turkey are relishing their underdog status and are on the up – and unbeaten – since Stefan Kuntz took the reins in September.
“Path C is definitely the most difficult one,” said Kuntz, a EURO ’96 winner with Germany. “But the development of the team, staff and the TFF since I have been there gives me hope. Our wish would be to bring the most important game [the play-off final] back to Turkey to see what we can achieve.”
Did you know?
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo broke the world record for international goals during the qualifying campaign and now has 115 to his name.
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