The World Cup is drawing ever closer and teams are edging towards qualification in the European section. Indeed Denmark were the first European nation to guarantee their place in Qatar having won all eight of their games in Group F, with Germany right behind them after seven wins and a defeat from eight clashes in Group J.
The World Cup takes place next year, albeit that it is just over a year away due to its unusual November/December scheduling due to the fierce heat of the Qatari summer. There are just two qualifying games left for most teams but what of the Home Nations? Can England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland still make it to Qatar?
Well, at the risk of being accused of English arrogance, we are going to remove the Three Lions from the equation. Gareth Southgate’s men have stuttered a little of late but it is safe to say that not only can they definitely still qualify, but that they almost certainly will. In theory, Poland (and if you believe in miracles, Albania too) could yet pip them to top spot in Group I but with England three points and four goals (in terms of goal difference) clear, and a clash with San Marino still to come, it would take a major upset for them not to book their spot in Qatar.
So, if England are almost certain of making it to the 2022 World Cup, can Scotland, Wales, Ireland and NI possibly still join them?
Can Scotland Qualify for the World Cup?
In a golden era for Scottish football with greats like Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Gordon Strachan just some of their stars, Scotland qualified for five consecutive World Cups from 1974 onwards. Since then, an appearance at France 98 is their solitary adventure on the world stage. Can they stop the rot and make it to Qatar?
The Scots are in the same group as Denmark, which means automatic qualification is already out of their grasp. With games against the top side in the group (Denmark) and the bottom side, Moldova, Steve Clarke’s men should be able to book their spot in the play-offs with ease. Currently four points clear of third-placed Israel, a win in Moldova would see them finish second. Given the Moldovans have managed just a single point thus far, scoring four times and conceding 24, we fully expect to see the Tartan Army in the play-offs.
Based on current rankings Scotland would be one of six seeded teams in the play-offs which would certainly help their cause, giving them a home tie in the semi-final stage of this path. We cannot yet say who they would play and whilst they could end up against a strong side it is highly unlikely they will be faced with a daunting task. That said, we do not think any of their possible opponents could be classed as representing an easy game and so it is very much in the balance for the Scots with them needing to win two play-off games in order to make it to Qatar.
Can Wales Still Qualify?
Wales are in five-team Group E, with Belgium and Czech Republic their main rivals. Belgium top the group on 16 points with the other two locked together on 11, though the Czechs have just one game left to play, against Estonia, whilst Belgium and Wales have two matches to come. To give a very simple answer then, yes, Wales definitely can qualify; but will they? We can assume that Belgium will complete the job and so the question really is, can Wales overtake the Czechs?
Rob Page (standing in for Ryan Giggs) and co have two home games left so things are looking good, though one of those is against Belgium. Thankfully for them, the other is against minnows Belarus, who have lost six of their seven games thus far. Assuming they beat Belarus on the 13th November, a draw against Roberto Martinez’s men on the 16th would guarantee they finish second.
If they fail to nick second spot at the death all is not lost, however, as Wales could book a play-off spot thanks to their Nations League performance. In fact, such an outcome is almost guaranteed. If they can finish second then they would have a chance of being seeded for the play-offs whilst if they finish third they won’t and will face an away match in their semi-final play-off. Come what may, Wales absolutely can still qualify, though statistical analysis puts their chances at a shade under 20%. Not great odds.
Can Ireland Still Qualify?
Ireland, which is to say the Republic of Ireland, have had a campaign to forget. Any Irish fans should look away now: Stephen Kenny’s men are currently below Luxembourg in the Group A standings! Yes, Luxembourg, a side that has failed to qualify for the World Cup more than any other and has a population of just over 600,000, most of whom are more familiar with fat cats, foie gras and being foreign (almost 50% of residents are foreigners) than they are with football. Oh Ireland, where did it go wrong?
The Irish cannot qualify and in a strange group currently topped by Serbia, ahead of Portugal, are now simply looking to save a little face. Things are far from guaranteed on that front though, with a home game against a victory-needing Portugal up next and then a trip to Luxembourg to follow. The minnows won 1-0 in the reverse fixture so even though Qatar is but a distant dream for the Republic they will desperate to end the group with a win.
Can Nothern Ireland Still Qualify?
If there is any consolation for some in the south it is that their neighbours in the north have fared just as badly. Like the Republic, Northern Ireland are already out of contention for qualification and can put their Qatar guidebooks back on the shelf. That said, Norn Iron have not been embarrassed in Group C and indeed their only three defeats have all come away at the three teams set to finish above them.
Italy and Switzerland are battling it out for top spot, tied on 14 points, with Bulgaria next on eight and Ian Baraclough’s troops just two points better off than Lithuania, having taken just five points from their six matches. With a home game against the group’s bottom nation to come NI could yet pip Bulgaria, who have played a game more, to third place. However, even if they do, they cannot and will not qualify for the next World Cup.
Remaining World Cup Qualifying Fixtures
The remaining UEFA qualification matches take place in mid-November, between the 11th and 16th November. The games of the Home Nations, including England can be seen below:
- England – 12th November, Albania at home; 15th November, San Marino away
- Ireland – 11th November, Portugal at home; 14th November Luxembourg away
- Northern Ireland – 12th November, Lithuania at home; 15th November, Italy at home
- Scotland – 12th November, Moldova away; 15th November Denmark at home
- Wales – 13th November, Belarus at home; 16th November, Belgium at home
When Are the World Cup Play-Offs?
Once all sides have completed their group games we will know exactly who has qualified automatically. We will also know who will progress to the play-offs, be it via finishing second or thanks to Nations League performances. We will also know which sides are seeded, six teams benefiting from a home game in their one-legged semi and also, in theory at least, from an easier opponent.
The draw for the play-offs, officially deemed the second round, will be held in Zurich on the 26th November 2021. There will be three sets of semis, meaning six seeded teams at home and six unseeded ones playing away. The winners of each of the pairs of semis will meet in a final creating three further UEFA representatives who will have qualified for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The semi finals will be played on the 24th or 25th March 2022 with the finals following on the 28th and 29th March. Can Scotland and Wales make it? Time will tell but it looks set to be a tense few months for both sets of fans.