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World Cup 2022: Everything you need to know about the Play-Offs

Gareth Bale has fired Wales into the playoff finals but they face a long wait to find out who they will face.
Gareth Bale has fired Wales into the playoff finals but they face a long wait to find out who they will face.

There's just under eight months to wait until World Cup 2022 kicks-off and with qualifying finished we've taken a look ahead to the play-offs and provided you with everything you need to know, from the format, to the ties that lie ahead and of course, the odds!

This article was updated in March to reflect the current situation in Ukraine.

What's the format?

A new format for this tournament sees the number of playoff teams increase from 8 to 12 teams who will fight it out for three remaining places at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. They consist of the 10 European group runners up and the two highest ranked UEFA Nations League group winners who finished out of the top two in World Cup qualifying. These countries have then separated into three 4-team sections, each featuring a Semi Final (seeded vs unseeded) and Final. The three winners will then join the 10 European group winners in the tournament proper on November 21st 2022.

Who’s qualified for Qatar?

The ten European group winners who have qualified for WC2022 are as followed(current FIFA World rankings):

Serbia(25), Spain(7), Switzerland(14), France(3), Belgium(1), Denmark(10), Netherlands(11), Croatia(18), England(5) and Germany(12).

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Who does that leave in the playoff spots?

The ten group runners up are joined by the top two ranked teams from the Nations League tournament who haven't already qualified. They have been seeded by a complex ranking system:

To determine the six best runners-up allocated to Pot 1, firstly the results of the group runners-up against the teams in sixth place (for groups with six teams) were discarded and then the following criteria applied in the order given:
a. higher number of points
b. superior goal difference
c. higher number of goals scored
d. higher number of away goals scored
e. higher number of wins
f. higher number of away wins
g. lower disciplinary points total based only on yellow and red cards received by players and team officials (red card = three points, yellow card = one point, sending-off for two yellow cards in one match = three points)
h. access list for the UEFA Nations League 2020/21

This leaves us with the following groups. 

Seeded

Portugal(8)

Scotland(42)

Italy(4)

Russia(33) - Suspended from all FIFA/UEFA competitions due to their invasion of Ukraine

Sweden(17)

Wales(19)

Unseeded

Turkey(39)

Poland(23) - Received a bye to the next round due to Russia's suspension

North Macedonia(74)

Ukraine(26)

Austria(32)(via NL)

Czech Republic(31)(via NL)

The seeded teams will play their play off semi final at home.

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Who will we see play each other in the playoffs?

Path A: 

Scotland v Ukraine*

Wales 2 v 1 Austria 

Final: Wales v Scotland/Ukraine

Path B:

Russia v Poland  - Poland receive a bye through to final

Sweden 1 v 0 Czech Republic (AET)

Final: Poland v Sweden

Path C: 

Italy 0 v 1 North Macedonia

Portugal 3 v 1 Turkey 

Final: Portugal v North Macedonia

The winners of the semi-finals will go into a final. The winners of Paths A, B and C will reach Qatar 2022.

When will the ties take place?

Play-off semi-finals: Thursday 24 March 2022
Play-off finals: Tuesday 29 March 2022

*Scotland v Ukraine postponed till June due to the ongoing war in Ukraine

How do the odds look?

Path A is now at an impasse. Wales are through to the final after a Gareth Bale inspired win over Austria but will have to wait for at least June to find out who they will be playing in the final due to the current situation in Ukraine.

Path B is clear cut following the expulsion of Russia. Poland will now host Sweden on Tuesday to determine who goes to the World Cup finals. Poland are slight favourites but the betting is pretty close.

Path C saw a huge shock on Thursday as European Champions Italy were sensationally stunned by North Macedonia. The Lynxes now face another huge tie away at Portugal, who are as short as 1/5 to progress.

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Memorable Play-off moments

Le Hand of God - France 2-1 Republic of Ireland , Nov 18th 2009

Perhaps the most famous playoff game of all time. France took a 1-0 lead into the second leg following a narrow victory at Croke Park, Dublin but Ireland headed into the game feeling positive and were rewarded by Robbie Keane's goal which levelled the tie after regulation time. 

However, after 103 minutes everything changed. France won a free kick inside Ireland's half and aimed a floated delivery which looked to be heading harmlessly out of play. All of a sudden Thierry Henry stopped the ball, not once but twice, first with his arm, then with his hand and crossed the ball across goal for William Gallas to head home.

The outcry that followed didn't finish on the night. Henry, who previously was seen as a very sporting player,  was hounded as a cheat and compared to drugs cheat Athlete Ben Johnson and disgraced Ice Skater Tonya Harding. Ireland, having threatened to sue FIFA in an attempt to get the game replayed were the recipient of a $5m payoff. A dark night for playoff football.

Ronaldo's Hat Trick - Sweden 2-3 Portugal, Nov 19th 2013

This contest was billed as a contest between Sweden's mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Portuguese goalscoring freak Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal arrived in Stockholm with a goal lead from the first leg, scored by Ronaldo of course. 

After dominating the first half Portugal doubled their lead in the tie through, who else? Ronaldo. Sweden , however, weren't about to back down and a header and then a fantastic free kick from Zlatan put them level. 

Ronaldo, though, was about to have his final say and dispatched the Swedes with two quickfire goals to send Portugal through with an aggregate 4-2 scoreline. A fantastic tie settled by 5 goals in only 29 minutes!

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