A lot of Ronaldo fan boys might not like the possibility of it, but their ‘GOAT’ might not make it to Qatar. Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese team have an uphill battle in the next days to determine if they will make it to the World Cup this winter.
Two of the three remaining places up for grabs will be determined by this time next week, with a plethora of world-renowned stars set to miss out on a place. The group stages saw the 10 winners automatically qualify for Qatar, while the runners-up – joined by the two highest-ranked Nations League sides who had otherwise failed to book a spot – were placed into the play-offs.
Russia were initially included in the list of 12 nations, split into three groups of four, but they have since been removed by FIFA due to the invasion of Ukraine. It leaves 11 sides competing for three spots, notably with Italy and Portugal drawn into the same play-off path, meaning one of the two European giants will certainly miss out on a place.
It’s a quite remarkable story, with Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, potentially fighting for his final World Cup opportunity, while Euro 2020 champions Italy could fail to qualify for back-to-back tournaments. The European heavyweights are joined by Poland – who have received a bye to the final – alongside, Sweden, Ukraine, Wales, Scotland, North Macedonia, Austria, Czech Republic and Turkey.
Path C sides Portugal and Italy face clashes against Turkey and North Macedonia in their respective semi-finals, two sides who will be hell-bent on preventing a mouth-watering play-off decider.
Meanwhile, Scotland and Wales are on a collision course to face each other in their final, though standing in the way are Ukraine and Austria. Finally, Sweden and Czech Republic are battling to join Poland in the final of Path B.
Aside from Scotland vs Ukraine, which as stated has been postponed until June, the semi-final clashes will all take place on Thursday, March 24, with each match kicking off at 7.45pm.
The winners of each one-legged game will progress to the final where they will meet the other victor from their respective path. These matches will all take place on Tuesday, March 29.
Upcoming European fixtures:
Semi-final 1: Scotland vs Ukraine – postponed until June
Semi-final 2: Wales vs Austria – Thursday, March 24 at 7.45pm
Semi-final 1: Sweden vs Czech Republic – Thursday, March 24 at 7.45pm
Final: Poland vs Sweden or Czech Republic – Tuesday, March 29
Semi-final 1: Italy vs North Macedonia – Thursday, March 24 at 7.45pm
Semi-final 2: Portugal vs Turkey – Thursday, March 24 at 7.45pm
Final: Portugal or Turkey vs Italy or North Macedonia – Tuesday, March 29
African Playoff – Salah vs Mane
There will be five African nations competing at this year’s World Cup, but astonishingly one of Senegal and Egypt – who competed in February’s Africa Cup of Nations final – will be absent.
The nations were split into 10 qualifying groups, with the winners of each drawn into two-legged ties – which take place this week – to determine who qualifies.
Unfortunately, there will be a number of high-profile stars who will have to miss out on a place due to the nature of the draw.
The fixtures, all of which take place on Friday, March 25, are as follows:
Egypt vs Senegal – 7.30pm
Ghana vs Nigeria – 7.30pm
Cameroon vs Algeria – 5pm
Congo vs Morocco – 3pm
Mali vs Tunisia – 5pm
The second-leg clashes will all take place on Tuesday, March 29.
Senegal vs Egypt – 6pm
Nigeria vs Ghana – 6pm
Algeria vs Cameroon – 8.3pm
Morocco vs Congo – 8.30pm
Tusinia vs Mali – 8.30pm
It was Mane who scored the decisive spot-kick as Senegal won a historic first-ever AFCON title on penalties, with both players desperate to perform after underwhelming outings in Russia four years ago. The likes of Thomas Partey and Jordan Ayew of Ghana will come up against Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Indidi, Ademola Lookman and Alex Iwobi.
Meanwhile, Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez could also miss out on a place.
North, Central America and Caribbean
What a story we have brewing in the North, Central America and Caribbean qualification process, with Canada on the brink of a historic feat. Two qualifying rounds have come and gone, with the third and final round – an eight-team league – coming to its conclusion on March 31.
Just three games remain for the eight sides to confirm a place in Qatar, though in truth just five teams – being Canada, USA, Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica – are still in the mix.
It’s Canada who sit in pole position, four points above USA in second and eight ahead of Panama in fourth. Crucially, the top three automatically qualify, with the side in fourth going into the inter-confederation play-off.
Canada, guided by Englishman John Herdman, have qualified just once before for the World Cup – all the way back in 1986, where they lost all three games and went out without a point.
They now need just a single win from their remaining three encounters to confirm their qualification, with fourth-placed Panama then mathematically unable to catch them. Canada come up against fifth-placed Costa Rica on Friday, with both teams desperate for a win.
Meanwhile, USA and Mexico – sat second and third respectively – square off, again on Friday, in another crunch clash.
Jamaica vs El Salvador – Thursday, March 24 and 11.05pm
Panama vs Honduras – Friday, March 25 at 1.05am
Mexico vs USA – Friday, March 25 at 2am
Costa Rica vs Canada – Friday, March 25 at 2.05am
Canada vs Jamaica – Sunday, March 27 and 9.05pm
El Salvador vs Costa Rica – Sunday, March 27 at 22.05pm
USA vs Panama – Monday, March 28 at 12pm
Honduras vs Mexico – Monday, March 28 at 12.05pm
Costa Rica vs USA – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am
Jamaica vs Honduras – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am
Mexico vs El Salvador – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am
Panama vs Canada – Thursday, March 31 at 2.05am