The World Cup qualifying campaign is almost at an end. 29 teams have booked their place in the tournament, and only three more spots remain.
It’s been a thrilling set of qualifiers, with plenty of drama right down to the final whistle. Here is a recap of the World Cup qualifying campaign in each confederation.
Qualified: Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Croatia, England, Germany, Portugal, Poland.
Could still qualify: Scotland, Ukraine, Wales.
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Memphis Depay (12 each).
There are 18 European nations inside the top 32 of the FIFA World Rankings, but only 13 can qualify for the World Cup. As a result, several big nations will miss out.
France, Belgium, Denmark, England, and Germany all had fairly comfortable qualifying campaigns. Those sides all topped their groups with ease, and three of them remained unbeaten.
Meanwhile, there were some worries for Spain, Netherlands, and Croatia, but they all booked their spots in Qatar with victories on the final day.
But the real drama of the group stages came in groups A and C. Portugal looked set to top their group, but an injury time goal by Aleksandar Mitrovic took Serbia above them right at the death.
Meanwhile, Euro 2020 champions Italy went into the final day needing a win against Northern Ireland to guarantee their progression. However, they were held to a draw in Belfast, allowing Switzerland to leapfrog them with an emphatic 4-0 victory against Bulgaria.
Incredibly, the four-time World champions crashed out of the play-offs in the semi-finals. Despite dominating the statistics against North Macedonia, Aleksandar Trajkovski’s late beauty condemned Italy to defeat. This is the second World Cup in a row that they will be absent from.
Having already defeated Germany and Italy, North Macedonia went into their play-off final against Portugal with hope. However, this proved to be a challenge too far, as Bruno Fernandes’ brace took Fernando Santos’ men to the tournament.
Poland became the 12th European team to qualify for the World Cup, seeing off Sweden 2-0 with goals from Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski.
One more UEFA nation will join the other 12, but we won’t know who until the summer. Scotland’s clash with Ukraine was postponed until June, with the winner of that match set to face Wales in a play-off final.
Qualified: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador.
Could still qualify: Peru.
Top scorer: Marcelo Moreno (10).
As expected, there were no problems for Brazil or Argentina in their qualifying campaigns, and will be a treat to watch live at the World Cup. Both sides made it through unbeaten, although they still have to play each other as their fixture in September was abandoned.
The remaining two automatic spots were a bit closer fought, but Uruguay and Ecuador managed to grab them with a game to spare. This left just the play-off spot left to play for, with Peru, Colombia, and Chile all fighting it out for their chance to qualify.
Chile were eliminated with a home defeat to Uruguay, and Colombia also missed out despite a final day victory over Venezuela. It was Peru who finished in fifth, beating Paraguay 2-0 in Lima with goals from Gianluca Lapadula and Yoshimar Yotun. They will face a team from AFC in their play-off in June.
Qualified: Qatar (hosts), Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan.
Could still qualify: United Arab Emirates, Australia.
Top scorer: Ali Mabkhout (14).
AFC qualifying is a long process. We’ve just completed round three, and we still don’t have our full line-up from Asia.
The third round is where things get intense. The 12 teams are split into two groups of six, with the top two from each group qualifying automatically. The third-placed teams face each other, with the winners going into the inter-continental play-offs.
Iran and South Korea comfortably qualified from Group A. They both wrapped things up with plenty of time to spare, finishing at least 11 points clear of third place.
The fight for the play-off place went down to the wire, and it was UAE who managed to take it ahead of Iraq and Lebanon. A win against South Korea on the final day gave them the points they needed to cement third place.
Things were even less eventful in Group B, with everything already decided going into the closing round. Saudi Arabia and Japan both qualified with ease, and Australia finished in third.
Australia and UAE will play each other for a place in the inter-continental play-offs. Whoever wins will then have to defeat Peru to book their spot in Qatar.
Qualified: Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia.
Top scorer: Islam Slimani (8).
African qualifying is absolutely brutal. 54 nations compete for just five places, with it all coming down to a two-legged play-off. A team can win nine out of ten matches and STILL not make it to the tournament.
The CAF play-offs gave us some of the most chaotic scenes we’ve seen in World Cup qualifying this year, especially in the tie between Cameroon and Algeria. After their second leg went to extra time, Algeria thought they had nicked a decisive goal in the 118th minute.
However, an injury-time strike from Karl Toko-Ekambi swung the tie back into Cameroon’s favour, sending the home side out. If you want an insight into how dramatic this was, check out this Twitter thread.
In a repeat of February’s Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt had the chance to get revenge on Senegal. And after the first leg, they seemed to be on their way to Qatar with a 1-0 victory in the first leg.
Senegal managed to even things up in the second leg, taking the game to a penalty shootout. And, once again, the AFCON champions prevailed, with Sadio Mane netting the deciding penalty. Club teammate Mohamed Salah didn’t have such fortunes, blazing his penalty over the crossbar.
There was more joy for Premier League stars in the fixture between Nigeria and Ghana. After the first leg finished 0-0, the two played out a 1-1 draw in Abuja with goals from Thomas Partey and William Troost-Ekong. Ghana progressed on away goals.
Morocco had a scare in their tie with DR Congo, having fallen behind in the first leg before netting a late equaliser. They had no such worries in the reverse fixture, winning 4-1 thanks to a brace by Azzedine Ounahi and finishes by Tarik Tissoudali and Achraf Hakimi.
The final qualifying place went to Tunisia, who earned a spot at the World Cup with a narrow win over Mali. Moussa Sissako’s own goal in the first leg was the only goal of the tie.
Qualified: Canada, Mexico, USA.
Could still qualify: Costa Rica.
Top scorer: Cyle Larin (13).
It has been a memorable campaign for the Canadian national team, who qualified for just their second World Cup ever. They secured top spot in their group with a 4-0 victory over Jamaica.
They were joined by Mexico and USA, who took the other two automatic spots. The former reached their eighth consecutive World Cup, while the latter return to the biggest stage having missed out in 2018.
Costa Rica remain in with a shout of reaching the tournament, having finished in fourth place. They will go into the inter-continental play-offs, facing New Zealand.
Could still qualify: New Zealand.
Top scorer: Chris Wood (5).
Oceanian World Cup qualifying has had to be rushed through due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all fixtures being played within two weeks. The Solomon Islands and Tahiti progressed from Group A after Vanuatu and the Cook Islands withdrew, while New Zealand and Papua New Guinea took the top two spots in Group B.
In the knockout phase, New Zealand defeated Tahiti, and the Solomon Islands emerged victorious from their clash with Papua New Guinea. The two victors faced each other for a place in the inter-continental play-offs, and New Zealand came out on top with a 5-0 win. They will face Costa Rica for a place in Qatar.
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