Qatar 2022: Portugal and Italy, in the same group of the World Cup play-offs | sports

Cristiano Ronaldo, after the last duel with Portugal against Serbia.
Cristiano Ronaldo, after the last duel with Portugal against Serbia.PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (AFP)

Being European champion is of little or no use in the complicated and winding road to the World Cup. Italy knows it well – which was crowned last summer – and Portugal, its predecessor in 2016, knows it well. More than anything because at least one of the two (or maybe both) will be left out of the Qatar World Cup 2022 in this qualifying phase. That was the verdict of the draw held this Friday by FIFA in the new European play-off format for the World Cup event.

The 12 qualified teams – which are the 10 countries that finished second in the European groups plus another two selected from the ranking of the League of Nations 2020-2022 – will participate in three different teams with two semi-finals and one final to single match to determine the three teams that will complete the European quota for the next World Cup. The semifinals will be played on March 24 and 25, while the three finals will be on March 28 and 29.

Former players Tiago Mendes (Atlético and Oporto, among others) and Lothar Matthäus (Bayern) were in charge of taking out the balls, of certifying a draw that will be a poisoned path for the two most powerful teams that were left standing but still without a World Cup pass . Perhaps it will be even more complicated for azzurri Because if they go round and eliminate North Macedonia as local, they would play the safe conduct to a single game in someone else’s field. That is, the European champions can go to the World Cup in the fiefdom of Cristiano Ronaldo, if the Portuguese get rid of Turkey before, also at home.

Penalized by a discreet and unresolved group stage (Portugal fell against Serbia on the last day to finish second in the group; and Italy could not with a rising Switzerland), both teams will have to overcome a first round before facing each other. Italy will host North Macedonia, who lost in the group stage to Germany – although they beat them in one of the two games; beginning of the end for coach Joachim Löw, successfully relieved by Hansi Flick – but he beat other countries like Romania. Portugal will face Turkey, who lost the battle against the Netherlands but left a team like Norway by the wayside.

Fortune, in any case, has turned its back on Italy. Although the field factor was in favor of the teams that have had the best performance in the group stage, the same is not the case with the venues of the finals, which were decided by lottery. And there Portugal won without playing, who would host the Italian team in the hypothetical final. All a nightmare for azzurri, who could stay out of the World Cup for the second time in a row since they did not seal their pass for Russia 2018.

In another of the tables, Wales will face Austria, a duel marked because Gareth Bale will play chestnuts against his teammate David Alaba. The country that passes the round – which will have the field factor in favor – will beat the winner of Scotland-Ukraine.

And in the last box appears the figure of Robert Lewandowski, Bayern striker with a gifted sense of smell – in 12 games in Germany he already has 14 goals this League – who does not want to miss the World Cup event with the Polish shield on his chest. For that, they will have to beat Russia at home, a team that lost by one point in the group stage race against Modric’s Croatia. To their relief, should they pass the round, the draw determined that Poland would play at home against the victorious Sweden – a selection that almost made Spain blush – and the Czech Republic.

In Qatar, the qualified European teams are already waiting for them: Germany, England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Serbia, Denmark, Switzerland, Croatia and Spain.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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