With several important World Cup qualification issues settled in Europe, South America and Africa during this month’s international break, it is time to recap which Blues have helped their countries book a place in Qatar, how they got there and who else is still in contention to reach the tournament…
Qualification started in June 2019, with 209 nations competing to fill the 32 spots available at next year’s World Cup, which will be the first to be held mid-season here, during late November and December.
In addition to hosts Qatar, who automatically take part without the need to qualify, Europe has 13 places available and Africa five, while South America and Asia have four and North America three. The last three of those continents, plus Oceania, could have an extra representative via the inter-continental play-offs.
So far 13 of the teams who will be competing in the 2022 World Cup have been confirmed, but who are they and who else could be joining them?
The conclusion of the main group stage for UEFA qualification this week means the first 10 teams representing Europe at the World Cup have been determined. The other three countries will be decided in the European play-offs during the next international break in late March 2022, when the 10 group runners-up, in addition to the two highest-ranked sides from the UEFA Nations League not already qualified, will be drawn into three sets of semi-finals.
The best five runners-up from the group stage will be seeded at home in those semi-finals, with the home sides for the three resulting finals, to decide the remaining qualifiers, being determined by a random draw.
Michy Batshuayi, Romelu Lukaku – Strikers Lukaku and Batshuayi both missed the most recent international break through injury, as Belgium confirmed their place at the World Cup with a 3-1 home win over Estonia last week, topping Group E. In truth, that victory was little more than a rubber stamp after an undefeated campaign which saw them win six out of eight matches, and Lukaku finish as the group’s top scorer with five goals.
Mateo Kovacic – Kovacic also missed the last two games of qualifying through injury, but before then he had featured in every match except one, when he was unavailable due to suspension in October. Without him over the last week, Croatia secured qualification in a tense winner-takes-all final match at home against Russia, with a late own goal giving the hosts the victory they needed to leapfrog their opponents into first place at the last chance, topping the group by one point.
Andreas Christensen – The Danes became the second team to qualify for the World Cup, one day after Germany, with a narrow 1-0 home win over Austria in October. They then beat the Faroe Islands but lost to Scotland over the last week to end four points clear in Group F, letting their 100 per cent record slip in the last game.
Christensen was a key player in their qualification, missing just one game, against Moldova in March, and featuring for every minute of the other nine matches.
Ben Chilwell, Conor Gallagher, Reece James, Mason Mount – England needed until their last match to officially confirm their place at the World Cup, despite being the highest-scoring team in European qualification, ending the campaign with 39 goals in 10 games, with Mount and Chilwell contributing one each.
The last two games provided 15 of those goals. Needing four more points to guarantee qualification, the Three Lions beat Albania 5-0 before making things official by hitting double figures in San Marino on Monday evening, giving them a six-point lead over second-place Poland by the end. Gallagher made his England debut right at the end of the campaign.
N’Golo Kante – With the holders no longer guaranteed the chance to defend their title, the world champions had to qualify through the group stage. The French did so with a game to spare, though, with Kante returning from injury to be named in their starting line-up for the first time since Euro 2020, as they thrashed Kazakhstan 8-0 at home.
It was an emotional night as they secured their place at the World Cup in the same Stade de France venue which was hit in the Paris terror attacks during an international match exactly six years earlier, on 13 November 2015, with the victims of that tragedy being remembered before kick-off.
Kai Havertz, Antonio Rudiger, Timo Werner – The Germans became the first team to qualify for the World Cup in a dominant campaign, as they ended up nine points clear at the top of Group J. That was during the previous international break, when Kai Havertz opened the scoring and Timo Werner hit a brace in a 4-0 win away in North Macedonia.
That booked Germany’s place at the World Cup with two games still to play. They then underlined their superiority by scoring 13 goals in those two games in November, including another opener from Havertz as they ended their campaign by beating Armenia 4-1.
Emerson Palmieri, Jorginho – Despite being assured of a top-two place going into this month’s international break, when they were ahead of second-placed Switzerland on goal difference, a difficult end to their group campaign means Italy will need to win in the play-offs to reach Qatar next year.
They missed an opportunity to take the advantage in a 1-1 home draw with the Swiss, when Jorginho suffered the agony of missing a late penalty, and then could not break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw away to Northern Ireland. Combined with Switzerland’s 4-0 win over Bulgaria, that meant Italy finished two points behind in second.
Italy will now need to wait to learn their opponents in the play-offs, although they are one of the seeded teams playing their semi-final with home advantage. However, the Azzurri will need to overcome some painful memories, having lost to Sweden in the 2018 World Cup qualification play-offs.
Billy Gilmour – Although they could not challenge Denmark for top spot, Scotland comfortably qualified for the play-offs, finishing with a seven-point advantage over third-placed Israel in Group F.
They finished the group stage strongly, winning 2-0 away in Moldova to secure their play-off place before impressively beating already-qualified Denmark by the same score line in the last game, ensuring they will be one of the seeded teams playing at home in the semi-finals.
Cesar Azpilicueta – The Spaniards went into the last round of qualifying matches trailing Sweden by two points at the top of Group B, but took the lead through a combination of their own 1-0 win away at Greece and Sweden’s shock defeat in Georgia.
That meant it came down to a final head-to-head meeting between Spain and Sweden in Sevilla in the last game, with Azpilicueta featuring throughout as former Blues striker Alvaro Morata’s late goal gave Spain a 1-0 win to top the group and qualify directly.
Ethan Ampadu – The Welsh missed out on automatic qualification, finishing five points behind Belgium, but are still in contention to compete in the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after Ampadu was part of the squad which beat Belarus 5-1 and secured a 1-1 draw with Belgium this week, edging out the Czech Republic for second place in Group E.
Crucially, that means they will be seeded in the draw for the European play-offs, being guaranteed a home semi-final and avoiding the other top-ranked teams at that stage.
Play-off qualifiers: Austria, Czech Republic, Italy (seeded), North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal (seeded), Russia (seeded), Scotland (seeded), Sweden (seeded), Turkey, Ukraine, Wales (seeded)
The whole of CONMEBOL qualification takes place in a single league format, with all 10 teams in South America playing each other home and away. At the end of the league, in late March, the top four in the table qualify directly for the World Cup.
The fifth-placed team enters the inter-continental play-offs alongside one country from each of the Asian, Oceanic and North American regions. All four will be randomly drawn into a pair of two-legged ties to be played in June 2022, with both winners qualifying for the World Cup.
Thiago Silva – Brazil qualified comfortably with six games to spare, when Thiago Silva captained them to a 1-0 win over Colombia last week, helping the Selecao record an impressive ninth clean sheet in their first 12 games, which soon became 10 in 13 as they drew 0-0 with Argentina this week.
That leaves them six points clear of rivals Argentina, who have also qualified already, at the top of the league and with a massive 18-point margin between themselves and Peru in fifth place.
The second of Africa’s three qualifications stages came to a conclusion this week. The 10 group winners will now be paired up in two-legged play-off ties, to be played in March 2022, with the five victors qualifying for the World Cup.
Baba Rahman – Ghana sealed their progress to the third round of qualification by the finest of margins in their last game of the group stage. A disappointing draw at Ethiopa last week meant they went into their final match with South Africa trailing their opponents by three points in the table. A 1-0 win closed that gap and, as the two sides also had identical head-to-head records and goal difference, Ghana go through by virtue of having scored one more goal during their six matches.
Edouard Mendy – Senegal had already secured their progress to the next round a long time ago. Drawn alongside Togo, Namibia and Congo in their group, Senegal dropped just two points in six unbeaten matches, with Mendy conceding just four goals, and only one at home. That left them sat eight points clear at the top of Group H to comfortably make it into the third round.
Third-round qualifiers: Algeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia
North America, Central America and the Caribbean
The five highest ranked countries in the CONCACAF region begin their qualifying campaigns at the third and final stage, when they join the three sides to progress from the earlier rounds in a single eight-team round-robin league. That runs until the end of March 2022, when the top three will qualify for the World Cup and fourth place enters the inter-continental play-offs in June.
Christian Pulisic – The USA went top of the table as the third stage of qualification reached its halfway point, when Pulisic opened the scoring in a 2-0 win over neighbours and fierce rivals Mexico last week. However, a 1-1 draw with Jamaica means they have now dropped down to second, one point behind Canada and one ahead of Panama in the play-off spots in a tight table with six games remaining.
CONCACAF third-round standings
All confirmed World Cup teams