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2022 World Cup Qualifying: Which matches to follow during this break

2022 World Cup Qualifying
(Photo by: Bernadett Szabó/AFP/Getty Images)

2022 World Cup Qualifying: Which matches to follow during this international break

The March FIFA international break is here, and it is all about the final games of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying. By the end of the break, we will know 29 of the 32 teams going to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. The international break will begin on March 21st and will go until March 29th. 

Unlike during the January break, all six confederations will be playing matches. In the Asian (AFC) qualifiers there are two spots up for grabs along with two third-place playoff places. In North America (CONCACAF) all three 2022 World Cup Qualifying places are still to be decided. In South America (CONMEBOL) Brazil and Argentina have already qualified for Qatar leaving two places left to be fought for. Africa (CAF) has all five qualifying places to be decided. The European (UEFA) qualifiers are into the playoff stage and three places are still to be decided to go with the 10 teams who have already qualified. The smallest region Oceania (OFC) gets no automatic qualifiers, but the winner of the four-team final will progress to the inter-confederation playoffs. With so many games to be played, here are the most important ones from this round of internationals.

AFC 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

Current table after 8 matches played

Group A

  1. Iran (Qualified with 22 points)
  2. South Korea (Qualified with 20 points)
  3. UAE (9 points)
  4. Lebanon (6)
  5. Iraq (5)
  6. Syria (Eliminated with 2)

Group B

  1. Saudi Arabia (19 points)
  2. Japan (18)
  3. Australia (15)
  4. Oman (Eliminated with 8)
  5. China (Eliminated with 5)
  6. Vietnam (Eliminated with 3)

Big Matches

Iraq vs UAE

A win for the UAE will all but punch a ticket to the fourth round as the third-place team in Group A. There is no chance of catching either South Korea or Iran for a top-two spot, so the UAE must go the long way to Qatar in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying. Iraq however is not completely out of it and a win against the UAE is essential in the three-team race for third. This game is also big for both teams because of who they each play next in the final match of Group A. Iraq have the much easier match against the bottom team Syria, while the UAE has to face South Korea, a side that they have not beat since 2006. The first match between Iraq and the UAE was incredible as Iraq looked to have won with a goal in the 89’ before the UAE equalized the match at 2-2 in the 90’+4’ to steal a point. This match will take place on March 24 in Saudi Arabia.

Australia vs Japan

The first of two massive clashes for Australia in Group B comes against Japan, who is only three points ahead. This means that a win by the Socceroos would level the teams on points in second place. These are two of the AFC’s more dominant teams having both qualified for the last four World Cups with Japan having made the two prior as well. In the earlier match between the two in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying a late own goal by Australia sealed a 2-1 victory for Japan. A win this time for the Samurai Blue will clinch a top-two spot for both Japan and Saudi Arabia, leaving Australia in third. This has been a one-sided matchup as of late with Australia’s last win over Japan coming back in 2009 with a 2-1 win in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Over 74,000 fans were in attendance for that 2-1 win in Melbourne, Australia and there could very well be more when the two meet on March 24th in Sydney, Australia at the Stadium Australia which holds around 80,000 fans.

Saudi Arabia vs Australia

The importance of the match escalates greatly if Australia beat Japan first. That is because Australi would then need to match or better the result of Japan’s match vs Vietnam when they play against Saudi Arabia. For Saudi Arabia, a win against Australia in the final match of the third round of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying would guarantee a spot in the 2022 World Cup. However, a win in China earlier in the week would also have them advancing to their second consecutive World Cup. Australia will need to win both matches left and playing in Jeddah will not be easy. In the reverse fixture, the match finished in a goalless draw. The Socceroos have had great success against Saudi Arabia with their last loss to them coming in 1997. This match will take place on the final day of the international break on March 29.

CAF 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

The third round of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying in Africa has five two-leg matches take place with the winner of each advancing to the World Cup in Qatar. The first leg for all five ties will be on March 24th and the second leg will come five days later on March 29th.

Third Round matchups

Egypt vs Senegal
Cameroon vs Algeria
Ghana vs Nigeria
DR Congo vs Morocco
Mali vs Tunisia

Big Matches

Egypt vs Senegal

By far the biggest of the five ties gives us a rematch of the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Final where Senegal beat Egypt on penalties to clinch their first-ever AFCON title. Egypt will be more than looking for revenge in this tie as a chance to qualify for a second straight World Cup. The Lions of Teranga also look to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup. I would imagine the two legs will be very close and competitive, especially with Liverpool stars, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, leading each of the teams.

Cameroon vs Algeria

In the recent AFCON tournament, the hosts Cameroon suffered a heartbreaking loss in the semifinal to Egypt on penalties. They will now need to rebound against the hottest team in the world in 2021 in Algeria. The Algerian National Team had gone 35 matches without a loss before losing twice in the group stage of AFCON 2021 and subsequently being knocked out of the competition. Both teams missed out on the 2018 World Cup after having qualified for the two previous editions. Algeria have not beaten Cameroon since a 4-0 win in 1995, but have the top two goalscorers in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying in Islam Slimani (7 goals) and Riyad Mahrez (5). This set of ties should be interesting as the teams have not played since having very different results in the 2021 AFCON.

Ghana vs Nigeria

Two of Africa’s most successful nations face off in what could be the marquee matchup. Ghana finished bottom of their AFCON group and look to get their first win of 2022. After making a magical run to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, Ghana went out in the group stage in 2014 and surprisingly did not qualify in 2018. Ghana were led by André Ayew and Arsenal’s Thomas Partey in the second round. Ayew finished with 3 goals, while Partey had two. Nigeria also had the leading goalscorer in their second-round group as Victor Osimhen scored four goals to help Nigeria advance. The Super Eagles are looking to qualify for their fourth straight World Cup and seventh in the last eight editions after missing out in 2006. Recently Nigeria went six matches without losing before falling to Tunisia 1-0 in the AFCON Round of 16.

CONCACAF 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

Current table after 11 matches played

  1. Canada (25 points)
  2. United States (21)
  3. Mexico (21)
  4. Panama (17)
  5. Costa Rica (16)
  6. El Salvador (9)
  7. Jamaica (Eliminated with 7)
  8. Honduras (Eliminated with 3)

Big Matches

Mexico vs USA

The two biggest rivals in CONCACAF are tied on points, but the U.S. sits ahead on goal difference. Mexico has qualified for seven straight World Cups after being banned from the 1990 World Cup for playing ineligible players in an under-20 match. The U.S. had made seven straight World Cups before collapsing on the final day of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Mexico has dominated the all-time series with the U.S. having won 36 times compared to the U.S.’s 22 wins. In 2021 though, it was all U.S. The teams played three times and all three matches were won by the U.S. including wins in the Nations League Final and Gold Cup Final. Their most recent matchup was the first meeting in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying and the U.S. won 2-0 with late goals from Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, who will miss this match due to a season-ending foot injury. Mexico had lost three straight before getting a draw in their final match of 2021, but El Tri have yet to lose in 2022 through three matches. A win for either will put them just a bit closer to qualifying for Qatar. This match happens on March 24th.

Costa Rica vs Canada

Canada, AKA the best team in CONCACAF, will have their hands full against a Costa Rica side that sits just outside of qualifying positions. Canada has been dominant in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying having yet to lose. Canada has been scoring with ease and have a total of 19 goals with five goals each for Jonathan David and Cyle Larin which leads all players. With a win against Costa Rica, Canada will qualify for their second-ever World Cup and first since 1986. A loss could mark the end for Costa Rica as they would need the U.S. to lose three times and win their final two matches which includes a match vs the U.S. on the final day. In the previous meeting, Canada won 1-0 with a goal from David. Canada will play in Costa Rica on March 24.

Final Day

Costa Rica hosts the U.S. and Panama hosts Canada on the final day of qualifying on March 30th. These two matches could very possibly determine the final qualification place. The U.S. needs six points out of a possible nine to guarantee qualification for the 2022 World Cup, but as we saw four years ago things can change in an instant. The result of Panama’s trip to Orlando on March 27th will also play a key role in the importance of the final day.

CONMEBOL 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

Current table after 16 matches

  1. Brazil 15 matches played (Qualified with 39 points)
  2. Argentina 15 matches played (Qualified with 35)
  3. Ecuador (25)
  4. Uruguay (22)
  5. Peru (21)
  6. Chile (19)
  7. Colombia (17)
  8. Bolivia (15)
  9. Paraguay (13)
  10. Venezuela (10)

Big Matches

Uruguay vs Peru

One point separates the two teams fighting for the fourth and final automatic qualifying position, as the fifth-place team advances to the inter-confederation playoffs. Uruguay currently holds a slight advantage and has the second-highest scorer in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying in Luis Suárez with seven goals. Uruguay ended 2021 on a four-game losing streak but won both matches to start 2022. A 1-0 win over Paraguay and a 4-1 win vs Venezuala has The Sky Blue heading in the right direction as they look to qualify for the fourth straight time and better their quarterfinal finish four years ago. Peru has also started the year undefeated and has not lost in any of their last six matches. In 2018 Peru qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and now they are just on the outside of doing it for a second straight tournament. This match is happening on March 24th.

Ecuador vs Argentina

Second and third place face off in what could end up being almost meaningless if Ecuador beat Paraguay earlier in the week. While Argentina has already qualified, Ecuador still need three points to be safely through to the World Cup. A trip to Qatar would mark the fourth time Ecuador has qualified for the World Cup and the first since 2014. Meanwhile, Argentina have qualified for their 13th straight World Cup. At stake for Argentina and Lionel Messi is still the chance to finish first and pass their archrival Brazil. They have to win both games this break and beat Brazil in the game postponed from September. This match between Ecuador and Argentina will take place on March 29th.

Chile vs Uruguay

Uruguay have a tough match against Peru but then have an equally difficult and important match in Santiago, Chile. Chile is two points behind Uruguay and could jump over them with a win. Chile split their two matches earlier this year with a loss to Argentina and a win in Bolivia last time out. Uruguay beat Chile 2-1 in the first match of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Maxi Gómez. Chile are looking to return to the World Cup in 2022 after failing to qualify by one point.

OFC 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

The Oceanic qualifiers are a unique one that does not get granted an automatic place in the World Cup. Instead the top two teams from each advance to a playoff where the winner goes to the inter-confederation playoff.

Current tables after one match

Group A

  1. Solomon Islands (Advanced to final stage with 3 points)
  2. Tahiti 0 matches played (0)
  3. Cook Islands (0)
  4. Vanuatu (Withdrew from competition)

Group B

  1. Fiji (3)
  2. New Zealand (3)
  3. New Caledonia (0)
  4. Papua New Guinea (0)

Big Matches

Solomon Islands vs Tahiti

There has only been one match played in Group A after four were canceled following Vanuatu’s withdrawal from the competition. That means that the Solomon Islands, who won the lone match, are advancing after getting a 2-0 victory over the Cook Islands. With one team decided and only one match left it is simple if Tahiti win, draw, or lose by two but score then they will advance. If they lose by more than two goals then the Cook Islands will advance. This match will be taking place on March 21st in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

New Zealand vs Fiji

Following Australia’s move to Asia in 2006 New Zealand has been the only team to represent this region in the inter-confederation playoffs. They have made three straight inter-confederation playoffs but only advanced to the World Cup once in 2010. New Zealand is led by Newcastle forward Chris Wood who has scored 28 goals for the All Whites and is one away from becoming tied with Vaughan Coveny (29 goals) for the most goals all-time for New Zealand. Fiji won their first match and sit atop Group B and have not lost since 2019 going 3-2-0 in that time. They last played New Caledonia and won 2-1 with two goals from Sairusi Nalaubu who has now scored five goals in two matches for Fiji. This match will be happening on March 21st also in Doha, Qatar, and a win for either will see them advance.

UEFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

There has been a lot of drama surrounding the second round of Europe’s 2022 World Cup Qualifying as both Russia and Ukraine advanced to it. Russia has since been kicked out of the playoff-style second round, while Ukraine had to move their game with Scotland to June. Poland who was scheduled to play against Russia automatically advanced to the final of Path B.

Path A

Ukraine vs Scotland
Wales vs Austria

With the Ukraine vs Scotland match being postponed, it means that only Wales and Austria will be playing for a chance to move one step close to a place in the 2022 World Cup. No European countries have played yet in 2022, but Wales closed out 2021 by going unbeaten in seven matches. This unbeaten run began after Wales were eliminated from the 2020 European Championships by Denmark 4-0 in the Round of 16. The Dragons have made the World Cup once before in 1958 but have not made it back since and look to end that 64-year drought this year. After making back-to-back Euros there is hope that Gareth Bale can lead his team to the World Cup. It has been a while since Austria appeared in a World Cup, but that came much more recently in 1998. They will be relying on Bologna forward Marko Arnautovic, who has scored 5 goals for Austria in qualifying, and Real Madrid defender David Alaba. The Wales vs Austria match will be on March 24th in Cardiff, Wales, with the winner playing the winner of Ukraine vs Scotland sometime in June.

Path B

Russia vs Poland (Poland advanced)
Sweden vs Czech Republic

Poland advanced to the final of Path B after Russia was removed from competition following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The best player for the Polish team has been Robert Lewandowski as the Bayern Munich star has scored eight goals so far in qualifying. The other semifinal is between Sweden and the Czech Republic and will decide who plays Poland with a trip to the 2022 World Cup on the line. Sweden were sitting in a good position in the last round of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying, but they lost their last two matches and finished four points behind Spain, who they lost to 1-0 on the last day. Sweden is looking to get back to the World Cup for the second time in a row. The Czech Republic won three straight to end the year and now look to get to their first World Cup since 2006. The semifinal between Sweden and the Czech Republic is on March 24th with the winner playing Poland on March 29th for a ticket to Qatar.

Path C

Portugal vs Turkey
Italy vs North Macedonia

The thought that one of Portugal and Italy will not be going to the World Cup is unheard of and somewhat sad. With only one team advancing, either one of the world’s best players, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Portugal or the current European Champions, Italy, will not be going. In all likelihood the final of this path will be between Portugal and Italy, but before they meet they will both have to beat tough opposition that will want to play spoiler. Turkey are on a three-match win streak and have only lost one of their last seven. Since finishing third in 2002, Turkey has been unable to qualify for the World Cup and are trying to qualify for just the third time. They play a Portugal team that needed a win or draw against Serbia on the last day to qualify but gave up a 90’ winner to Aleksandar Mitrovic allowing Serbia to qualify for Qatar. North Macedonia has never qualified for the World Cup since becoming independent from Yugoslavia in 1991. They managed to qualify for the 2020 Euros which was an incredible accomplishment for the small country as it was the first major tournament they had ever qualified for. They will look to Ezgjan Alioski and Aleksandar Trajkovski to help get past an Italian team that let automatic qualification slip through their fingers by drawing their last two matches with Switzerland and Northern Ireland when a win in either would have qualified them. The two semifinals will be taking place on March 24th with the final set for March 29th.

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