Stars aim for final places in European football play-offs

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*Three European places at Qatar 2022 are up for grabs

*Italy and Portugal were drawn in the same way

*Bale, Ibrahimovic, Lewandowski, Ronaldo and Verratti are involved

Fifa | March 22, 2022 | The European play-off semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ begin on March 24. And while teams like Italy and Portugal have everything to lose, teams like the Czech Republic and North Macedonia find themselves with a chance to write footballing history for their country.

Victory in the semi-finals will keep the teams in the hunt for one of three play-off tickets and the chance to join the other European nations who have already qualified for the world’s most prestigious tournament, namely the Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, Switzerland, England and the Netherlands. Here is an overview of the crucial links to come.

Fixtures
Thursday, March 24, 8:45 p.m. CET
Wales-Austria (Path A)
Sweden-Czech Republic (Path B)
Italy-North Macedonia (Path C)
Portugal-Turkey (Path C)

Two world icons will cross swords in Cardiff. While Gareth Bale and David Alaba have already enjoyed great success in their respective careers, neither has managed to qualify for a FIFA World Cup™. This could be their last chance.

Sweden had qualification for Qatar close at hand but, despite having superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their starting line-up, they lost 2-0 to Georgia and allowed Spain to replace them at the head of the group. The two rivals met on the final matchday but the Swedes couldn’t overcome a strong Spanish side and now find themselves facing the Czech Republic in Solna.

North Macedonia and Italy will meet in Palermo in a David vs. Goliath showdown. And while the European champions face a rank underdog, there are genuine fears that they could miss the World Cup for the second time in a row. North Macedonia, meanwhile, have already shown in qualifying that they can mingle with the best, having beaten Germany 2-1 last March to rob the Mannschaft of a perfect record in Group J. .

The winners of this match will face the winners of Portugal-Turkey in the final. A draw against Serbia in their last group match would have been enough for Ronaldo, Pepe and Co to qualify straight away. Indeed, everything was going according to plan until Aleksandar Mitrovic powered a header in the 90th minute to tear up the script. Turkey, on the other hand, qualified for the play-offs on the final day. After struggling throughout the group stage, they did well in their final game with a 2-1 win over Montenegro. That, coupled with the Netherlands doing them a favor against Norway, opened up a play-off spot and a chance to fight with the 2016 European champions.

Facts and figures
36

The age of Burak Yılmaz, who is the oldest member of the Turkey team. The captain has represented his country for 16 years and hopes to finally realize his dream of participating in a World Cup.

1958

The last time Wales participated in a World Cup. It was also the only time before 2018 that Italy failed to qualify. Is history about to repeat itself?

1985

The last meeting between Sweden and the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifiers. On June 5, 1985, the Swedes won 2-0 at Solna, with the Czechs then winning the second leg 2-1. Will Janne Andersson’s team manage to repeat the score in the same place 37 years later?

Ninian Park, Cardiff. February 5, 1958 World Cup qualifying match. Wales 2 v Israel 0. Wales team group including; Jack Kelsey, Stuart Williams, Alan Harrington, Mel Charles, Mel Hopkins, Ron Hewitt, David Bowen, Ivor Allchurch, Terry Medwin, John Charles, Cliff Jones. Wales successfully qualified for the 1958 World Cup final in Sweden.

Quote
“We have a very clear objective. Our goal is to continue our EURO qualification by also qualifying for the World Cup. We know we have a difficult task ahead of us, but the team has always performed well in crucial matches. We don’t have many days to prepare, but we will use them well to focus on our opponents.
Franco Foda, Austria coach

“Sweden are a very strong and well organized team. They play simple football in a 4-4-2 formation. They also have great forwards with Forsberg as playmaker. I think they are probably the toughest of all the opponents in our group.
Jaroslav Silhavy, Czech Republic coach

“Sometimes there are players who don’t get enough playing time in their particular teams but still play an important role for their country. Everyone has their personal favorites that they would like to see in the team. My The overriding objective at the moment is to choose a team capable of beating Portugal, and you will see new names on the team sheet for this match.
Stefan Kuntz, Turkey coach

“We are playing in Palermo where the fans are very close to the pitch in places, and I think that will help us. I have faith in the guys. I know we have ten very difficult days ahead of us. We shouldn’t have let it boil down to that, but there are times in sports where you have to fight, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach



To note

The play-off final will take place on March 29 at 8:45 p.m. CET, when the Path C winners will face off, while either Sweden or the Czech Republic will face Poland. The semi-final between Scotland and Ukraine and the ensuing Path A final have been postponed to a date yet to be determined.

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