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Ronaldo, Lewandowski, Bale, others risk missing Qatar 2022 World Cup

By Guardian Nigeria
24 March 2022   |   2:56 am
Eleven European countries are still dreaming of earning their places at the Qatar 2022 World Cup later this year. They include Scotland, Wales, European champions Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo

Bayern Munich’s Polish forward Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring the 3-0 goal during the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Bayern Munich v FC Union Berlin in Munich, southern Germany, on March 19, 2022. (Photo by MICHAELA REHLE / AFP) / DFL REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ANY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND/OR QUASI-VIDEO

As ten European nations battle for three spots

Eleven European countries are still dreaming of earning their places at the Qatar 2022 World Cup later this year. They include Scotland, Wales, European champions Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.

The play-off situation is a slightly different one now to that presented when the draw was made back in November, following Fifa’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia, who were due to face Poland, have been disqualified from the competition, while Ukraine’s path A semi-final with Scotland has been postponed until June.

The 11 countries have been split into three sections, with only one nation advancing from each path.

Austria is aiming to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1998 and will be Wales’ semi-final opponents in Cardiff.

They only finished fourth in their World Cup qualifying group (the same group as Scotland), but are in the play-offs as one of two nations who qualified because of their Nations League performance.

Real Madrid defender David Alaba and ex-West Ham forward Marko Arnautovic are among their major players.

Like Austria, Scotland is hoping to qualify for their first World Cup in 24 years.

Steve Clarke’s side, who played at Euro 2020, finished second in World Cup qualifying Group F – only losing to group winners Denmark.

Scotland beat Denmark 2-0 in the final round of qualifying matches to earn a home semi-final, but they will be away at either Wales or Austria if they beat Ukraine.

Wales have only appeared at one World Cup finals, in Sweden 64 years ago when they lost 1-0 to eventual winners Brazil in the quarter-finals thanks to a goal from Pele.

With Rob Page in charge, Wales finished second in qualifying Group E, behind Belgium, who are number one in Fifa’s world rankings.

A draw against Belgium at Cardiff in their final qualifying match secured home advantage for the semi-finals and they will play at home as well in the final against Scotland or Ukraine if they defeat Austria.

Poland is hoping to play at their ninth World Cup and have Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, named the Best Fifa Men’s Player of 2021, in their side.

They finished six points behind England in qualifying but did manage to score 30 goals in 10 matches, with Lewandowski getting eight of them.

Sweden reached the quarter-finals in Russia four years ago, losing 2-0 to England, but are in danger of missing out in 2022.

They take on the Czech Republic at home in the semi-finals but will have to do so without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic because the 40-year-old is suspended, although he would be eligible to play against Poland in the away final.

Sweden had been in a good position to qualify with two matches remaining but away losses to Georgia and then in the deciding game against Spain left them second and in the play-offs.

A World Cup without four-time winners Italy? It happened in 2018 and could well happen again in 2022.

Italy, who beat England in the Euro 2020 final last summer to become European champions, remained unbeaten in their World Cup qualifying group but two draws with Switzerland, as well as a home draw with Bulgaria and a 0-0 in Northern Ireland, left Italy second, with the Swiss advancing as group winners.

The play-offs will bring back bad memories for Italians as in November 2017 they lost 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden over two legs to miss out on a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the first time they had not qualified since 1958. They have a home match against North Macedonia and then, if successful, a tricky away game against either Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal or Turkey.

Portugal missed out on automatic qualification in a dramatic fashion. They needed a draw at home to Serbia in their final match but conceded an injury-time goal to lose 2-1 – with Cristiano Ronaldo among those in tears at the final whistle.

Now Portugal, whose side also includes other Premier League stars including Manchester City trio Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva, Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Ronaldo’s Manchester United team-mate Bruno Fernandes, face must-win matches at home against Turkey and then either Italy or North Macedonia.

Ronaldo has played in four World Cups, helping Portugal finish fourth in 2006 – eliminating England on the way – but at the age of 36 this could well be his last chance to appear on the biggest stage of all and to win the ultimate prize.

Culled from BBCSports