The various continental qualifying campaigns for the World Cup 2022 reach the final stage and will end in the coming months before the tournament next winter.
The majority of FIFA’s confederations use some form of play-off format to decide some, or sometimes even all, of their respective qualifiers, while the infamous play-off between the federation will also provide a final chance for a handful of countries to reach Qatar.
This is all you need to know about the qualifying formats and playoffs, continent by continent, including key dates and those involved …
There is always a lot of competition in Europe / Catherine Ivill / GettyImages
The majority of Europe’s 13 qualifying games are decided by the initial group game, where the top team from each of the 10 qualifying groups secures an automatic place in Qatar next winter.
The countries that finish second, in addition to the two best UEFA Nations League group winners 2020/21 who did not manage to finish in the top two in their World Cup qualifying group, advance to the playoffs in the second round.
These 12 remaining countries will be divided into three separate “courses” – A, B, C – each of which is a four-team mini-tournament with single-legged semifinals and a final. The three winners will join the 10 other European nations at the 2022 World Cup.
These European finals will take place in the next international break, with semi-final matches on 24/25 March 2022 and the three finals on 28/29 March 2022.
Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Wales, Scotland and Northern Macedonia are guaranteed play-off places. The remaining four places will be determined when each group in the first round is completed.
South America has given us a variety of World Cup winning pages over the years / PEDRO UGARTE / GettyImages
There are no World Cup finals in the South American Federation alone.
The top four countries at the end of the marathon round-robin qualifiers automatically qualify for the World Cup. But the team in the fifth will still have a new chance to advance through the playoffs between the league.
The round robin will end on match day 18 on March 29, 2022. Brazil has already secured one of the automatic qualifiers, with Argentina on the way to taking another. There are only two automatic places left for Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Peru to fight over.
Only two of them are guaranteed a place in the World Cup, one more will get a second chance in the playoffs between federations and two will miss completely, along with Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela, who are probably too far back to get into the mix .
Africa’s third World Cup qualifier, scheduled for March 2022, is in practice the playoffs.
The first round of the CAF qualifiers pitted the 28 lowest-ranked African teams against a single opponent over two distances. It yielded 14 winners, who advanced to the second round group games along with 26 others, divided into 10 groups of four.
The 10 group winners from the second round advance to the third round, with no second chance for a second. Each is drawn against another nation for a two-legged draw, where the five winners of these playoffs secure a place in the World Cup.
DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Morocco and Senegal are the six out of 10 who are safe in one place so far.
There are actually four rounds of World Cup qualifiers in Asia, which started with a preliminary round for the 12 lowest ranked teams. A second round with eight groups of five followed, including World Cup hosts Qatar as it also qualifies for the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
As Qatar won its group but did not have to qualify for the World Cup, the other seven group winners and the top five runners-up advanced to the third round. At that stage, they were spit in two groups of six for the third round, which continues until March 2022.
The top two in each group will take four automatic places in the World Cup final. The two third countries will then face each other in a fourth round of the Asian playoffs, giving the winner the right to advance to the playoffs between federations and one last chance to advance to Qatar.
The playoffs in the fourth round will be a single match played in May or June 2022.
USMNT looks good to advance to World Cup / John Dorton / ISI Photos / GettyImages
The CONCACAF region gets three automatic places at the 2022 World Cup and a place in the playoffs between federations, determined by the third round qualifying round.
All but the top five countries started in the first round, with 30 nations drawn into six groups of five. The group winners went on to round two, which was a two-legged play-off against a single other opponent for the right to join the five highest-ranked CONCACAF teams, all of which received a farewell to the final stage, in the third round of qualifying.
Each plays against the other seven countries at home and away for 14 match days, which will end in March 2022. At that stage, the top three automatically qualify for the World Cup and the team in fourth place enters the playoffs between the league.
The top four look to be the United States, Mexico, Canada and Panama, which have opened a lead on the rest. But exactly who will finish in the top three and who will have to settle for another playoff route will not know for a while yet.
Oceania has never been guaranteed a guaranteed place in the World Cup, and whoever wins the regional qualifying section still has to go through extra stages. Historically, Oceania was paired with Asia, while in recent times it has meant entering the playoffs between alliances.
This time is no different, although the qualifying section for Oceania has been marked by uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The plans were constantly delayed and revised and as of September 2021, the OFC said that they could no longer arrange a qualifying competition in Oceania.
The hope is that the OFC qualifier can be held in Qatar in March 2022 instead.
Whoever wins the OFC section, regardless of format eventually, will enter the playoffs between league and a chance to get to the World Cup. New Zealand has topped all OFC qualifying campaigns since Australia joined the AFC in 2005.
The playoffs between federations are the infamous last chance to qualify for the World Cup.
When these finals begin in June 2022, 29 qualified teams from five FIFA confederations will have already been decided, as will the hosts Qatar.
It leaves two final places to win via the interconfederal route.
To compete for them will be Asia’s fourth playoff winner, the fourth ranked team from the final round of North America’s qualifying campaign, the team in fifth place from South America and the qualified winners from Oceania. The identities of these pages will not be known until March 2022.
The process is simple. The four teams are divided into two matches, which consist of home and away matches, where the winner of each secures a place for themselves at the World Cup 2022.
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