Hey, I definitely haven’t done of these in a while. So here’s the situation.
The World Cup will happen in Qatar in November of this year. It’s pretty close! Plus, as you might guess, a certain worldwide pandemic delayed most confederation’s qualifying tournaments. Let’s review the action so far, broken down by confederation.
And don’t forget: I have the status of every member of FIFA right here, including the date they either qualified or were eliminated. Take a look!
46 countries from Asia began competing in 2019 for four spots directly in the final field of 32 and one playoff spot. Asian qualifying was some of the first qualifying to be played, with the first qualifier for the 2022 World Cup taking place on June 6, 2019 between Mongolia and Brunei. (Mongolia won 2-0.) This was part of the first round series of home-and-home legs between the bottom 12 teams in the AFC.
The winners of those ties joined the other 34 countries in the second round. These 40 teams were then drawn into eight groups of five, with each team playing the other teams in their group twice. These matches were played starting in September 2019 and were disrupted by the pandemic. and were resumed in 2021. Qatar, as the host country, also participated since the matches doubled as qualifiers for the AFC’s cup competition. Qatar won their group, so their group’s runner up (Oman) advanced, along with 4 other second-place teams to the third round.
The third round drew the 12 remaining teams into two groups of six, playing a double-round-robin. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the World Cup, and the third place teams will playoff for a spot in the playoff. Currently, only Iran has qualified. Later on in this post I have the scenarios for the next matchday in the AFC.
The bulk of African qualifying has been competed. The first round began with the 28 lowest ranked teams competing in home-and-home legs with the winner on aggregate advancing to the second round. These matches were competed in September 2019.
The second round, originally scheduled for 2020, was moved to September 2021. The second round consisted of 10 groups of 4 playing double-round-robin matches, with the 10 group winners advancing to the third round.
CAF’s third round is particularly brutal. Africa gets five spots in the World Cup, and so the 5 home-and-home matches will determine who qualifies. These matches will take place in late March, and feature a mix of classically strong African teams and some newcomers:
- Egypt vs. Senegal
- Algeria vs. Cameroon
- Ghana vs. Nigeria
- Democratic Republic of the Congo vs. Morocco
- Mali vs. Tunisia
The confederation that’s home to North and Central America, and the Caribbean, originally envisioned a crazy final round designed to keep the smaller teams interested. The pandemic scuttled those plans, so I’ll focus on the format that actually happened.
The first round took place in March and June of 2021. The 30 lowest ranked teams were drawn into 6 groups of five, and played 4 single-round-robin matches. The group winners advanced to the second round.
The second round took place in late March 2021. The six group winners were paired off and played home-and-home matches, with the winner advancing on aggregate goals. None of these were particularly close: El Salvador advance 6-0 on aggregate, Canada advanced 4-0 on aggregate, and Panama advanced 2-1 on aggregate (with a shutout in the second leg). These three joined the top five ranked teams in CONCACAF for the third round, which is still on-going. The eight teams are playing a double-round-robin with the top three teams advancing directly to the World Cup, and the fourth place team advancing to a playoff. While no one can clinch in this window, Honduras has been eliminated and Jamaica can be eliminated on Wednesday. (See below.)
South America yet again has the most elegant qualifying format. The 10 teams play a double-round-robin. The top four advance directly to the World Cup, while the fifth place team goes to a playoff.
Despite a dustup in a match where Brazilian health officials tried to arrest Argentine players five minutes after the game started, both of South America’s top teams have already qualified. (Both are also undefeated.) The 10 teams will play again in the current international window, and then wrap up in March.
Many countries in Oceania have been the most cautious about the pandemic. Therefore, OFC qualifying hasn’t actually started yet. Of the 11 full members of the OFC, two (American Samoa and Samoa) did not enter, and Tonga withdrew after the recent volcanic disaster that hit the country. This leaves eight teams, including World Cup debutantes Cook Islands. The eight teams are divided into two groups of four. They will then play a single-round-robin and the two group winners will advance to a knockout tournament.
The tournament will take place entirely in Qatar from March 17 through March 30. The winner of tournament will then advance to a playoff against the 4th place team from CONCACAF. To put it mildly, if New Zealand is not the team that comes out of the OFC it will be one of the greatest shocks in the history of international soccer.
The major part of European qualifying is complete. Eight groups of 5 or 6 teams competed in the first round from March through November of 2021. The group winners qualified directly for the World Cup. The group runners up, and two third place teams that won their UEFA Nations League groups (trust me, figuring out when anyone in Europe was eliminated was complicated) advanced to the second round.
The 12 second round teams were drawn into three “paths”, where each path is essentially a 4 team knockout tournament that will take place in March. The three path winners will advance to the World Cup. And let me tell you, there’s some doozies. Here’s the three paths:
- Scotland vs. Ukraine
- Wales vs. Austria
- Russia vs. Poland
- Sweden vs. Czechia
- Italy vs. North Macedonia
- Portugal vs. Turkey
So yeah, probably Italy vs. Portugal with the World Cup on the line. Should be fun!
With that, we’ve completed our tour of the confederations’ formats. Let’s take a look at what could happen in the current window.
On the next matchday:
AFC (Tuesday, February 1)
South Korea can clinch with with a win over Syria.
South Korea can clinch with an United Arab Emirates loss or draw to Iran.
Syria will be eliminated with a loss.
Syria will be eliminated with an United Arab Emirates win over or draw with Iran.
Iraq will be eliminated with an United Arab Emirates win over Iran and a loss to Lebanon.
Lebanon will be eliminated with an United Arab Emirates win over Iran and a loss to Iraq.
Saudi Arabia can clinch with a win over Japan and an Australia loss to Oman.
Oman will be eliminated with a loss to Australia.
China will be eliminated with an Australia win or draw over Oman.
CONCACAF (Wednesday, February 2)
Jamaica will be eliminated with a Panama win over Mexico.
Jamaica will be eliminated with a loss to Costa Rica.
CONMEBOL (Tuesday, February 1)
Ecuador can clinch with a win over Peru and an Uruguay loss to Venezuela.
Bolivia will be eliminated with a loss to Chile, a Peru win over Ecaudor, and an Uruguay win over Venezuela.
Paraguay will be eliminated with a loss to Brazil and an Uruguay win over or draw with Venezeula.
Venezuela will be eliminated with a loss to Uruguay.