The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will involve 32 nations as has been the format since 1998, with only 24 taking part in the previous 2 editions and 16 in the 7 before those. The only remaining tournament, the first-ever World Cup, consisted of only 13 nations and was won by hosts Uruguay in 1930. This will be the last World Cup with this format as from 2026 the tournament, which will be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the USA will include 48 teams.
Apart from Qatar, which qualified automatically as hosts, we have 10 nations from Europe that already booked their place for the 2022 edition. Belgium, Denmark, France, England, Germany, and Spain topped their groups with ease, with 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia finding it harder than expected having had to beat Russia on the last day to ensure their participation.
The first surprise came from Group C as Switzerland beat Italy to top spot, with the current European Champions still hopeful of making it to Qatar through the play-offs. Joining them in the play-offs will be Portugal who, despite a star-studded squad, were beaten to the top of Group A by Serbia. The ‘Eagles’ made it through thanks to a dramatic 90th-minute winner in their very last qualifying match against the same Portugal in Lisbon. A game in which they had to come from behind after having conceded a goal very early in the first half.
It comes as no surprise to see the 2 most prominent footballing nations of this continent, Brazil, and Argentina, qualify first, despite having a game in hand compared to the rest. The ‘Selecao’ have won 12 and drawn 3 from the 15 games played. Yet to lose a match so far, they have 32 goals scored and only 5 conceded, already placing them amongst the favourites in Qatar.
Argentina have similarly avoided defeat thus far but have drawn 5 in total hence find themselves behind Brazil in the standings. Ecuador and Uruguay currently occupy the last 2 remaining direct qualifying spots heading into the last rounds of qualifiers, with Peru sitting in 5th, a position that puts you in the play-offs.
No nation has mathematically ensured a place in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar yet from this region, with Canada, the USA, Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica all still in the running as we head into the last 3 qualifying rounds. The Canadians are currently leading the way with 25 points, 4 above their main competitors, the USA and Mexico. Another 3 points will see this nation go to a World Cup for the second time ever, with their only previous participation coming in 1986.
The USA and Mexico are currently on equal points with the first of the upcoming qualifiers seeing them go head-to-head on the 24th of March. Panama are currently occupying the play-off spot with 17 points, one above 5th placed Costa Rica.
In Africa, the qualifying stage has reached the third round, which means we have the 10 second-round group winners sorted. The draw has been made with teams playing home and away against each other, with the winner over the 2 legs qualifying for the World Cup. In the first clash, we have a repeat of the AFCON final between Egypt and winners Senegal. Then we have the enticing encounter between Cameroon and Algeria. Elsewhere, Ghana take on Nigeria, the D.R. Congo take on Morocco with Mali set to face Tunisia.
The situation is slightly different in Asia where we have 2 qualifying rounds to go. Iran and South Korea have already booked their place in Qatar from Group A, with the UAE currently occupying the remaining play-off spot.
All is still up for grabs in Group B though, with Saudi Arabia currently topping the group with 19 points, followed by Japan with 18 and Australia with 15 points. Once this qualifying stage is over, the 2 third-placed teams will face off in an Asian play-off with the winners squaring off against the side which finishes 5th in South America in an Intercontinental play-off.
Due to Covid-19 measures, the qualification stage in Oceania will be held as one centralized tournament in Qatar between the 17th and 30th of March 2022. This will see 8 teams drawn into 2 groups of 4, with each team playing their group opponents once, the first 2 from each group will qualify for a single-leg semi-final match, with the 2 winners facing off in a final.
The eventual winner of this mini-tournament will book a place in the Inter-confederation play-offs. These will consist of 1 team each from Asia, North & Central America, South America, and Oceania, which will be drawn into 2 ties and face each other into single-leg knock-out ties in Qatar as well. The winners will take the remaining 2 slots of the 32-team tournament in December.