Monday 21 March 2022, 11:00

Stars eye European play-off final places

  • Three European places at Qatar 2022 are up for grabs

  • Italy and Portugal have been drawn in the same path

  • Bale, Ibrahimovic, Lewandowski, Ronaldo and Verratti are involved

The European play-off semi-finals for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ get underway on 24 March. And while teams such as Italy and Portugal have everything to lose, the likes of Czech Republic and North Macedonia find themselves in with a chance of making footballing history for their country. A win in the semis will keep teams in the hunt for one of three play-off tickets and the opportunity to join the other European nations who have already qualified for the world’s most prestigious tournament, namely Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, Switzerland, England and the Netherlands. Here is a look at the crucial upcoming ties.


Thursday, 24 March, 20:45 CET Wales-Austria (Path A) Sweden-Czech Republic (Path B) Italy-North Macedonia (Path C) Portugal-Turkey (Path C) Two global icons will cross swords in Cardiff. While Gareth Bale and David Alaba have already enjoyed plenty of success in their respective careers, neither has made it to a FIFA World Cup™. This could be their last chance.

Sweden had qualification for Qatar well within their grasp but, despite having superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their starting line-up, they went down 2-0 to Georgia and allowed Spain to replace them at the top of the group. The two rivals met on the final matchday, but the Swedes were unable to overcome a strong Spanish side and now find themselves taking on the Czech Republic in Solna. North Macedonia and Italy will meet in Palermo in a David-versus-Goliath showdown. And while the European champions are taking on a rank outsider, there is a genuine concern that they could miss out on the World Cup for the second time in a row. North Macedonia, meanwhile, have already shown in qualifying that they can mix it with the best, having beaten Germany 2-1 last March to deny the Mannschaft a perfect record in Group J. The winners of that match will face the winners of Portugal-Turkey in the final. A draw against Serbia in their final group game would have been enough for Ronaldo, Pepe and Co to qualify directly. Indeed, everything was going to plan until Aleksandar Mitrovic powered home a header in the 90th minute to tear up the script. Turkey, on the other hand, squeezed into the play-offs on the last matchday. After struggling throughout the group phase, they came good in their final fixture with a 2-1 win over Montenegro. That, coupled with the Netherlands doing them a favour against Norway, opened up a play-off spot and a chance to battle it out with the 2016 European champions.

Facts and figures

36 The age of Burak Yılmaz, who is the oldest member of the Turkey squad. The captain has been representing his country for 16 years and is hoping to make his dream of appearing at a World Cup finally come true.

1958 The last time that Wales took part in a World Cup. That was also the only time before 2018 that Italy had failed to qualify. Is history about to repeat itself? 1985 The most recent meeting between Sweden and Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying. On 5 June 1985, the Swedes won 2-0 in Solna, with the Czechs then winning the return leg 2-1. Will Janne Andersson’s team manage to repeat the scoreline at the same venue 37 years on?

Cardiff. 5th February 1958 World Cup Qualifying match. Wales 2 v Israel 0


“We have a very clear goal. What we’re aiming for is to follow up our EURO qualification by also making it through to the World Cup. We know we’ve a tough task ahead of us, but the team has always performed well in crucial matches. We don’t have many days to prepare, but we’ll use them well to focus on our opponents.” Franco Foda, Austria coach “Sweden are a very strong, well-organised team. They play simple football in a 4-4-2 formation. They also have great attackers with Forsberg as their playmaker. I think that they’re probably the toughest of all of the opponents in our group.” Jaroslav Silhavy, Czech Republic coach “Sometimes there are players who don’t get enough game time in their particular teams but still play an important role for their country. Everyone has their personal favourites that they’d like to see in the squad. My overriding aim right now is to pick a squad that is capable of beating Portugal, and you’re going to see some new names on the team sheet for this match.” Stefan Kuntz, Turkey coach “We’re playing in Palermo where the fans are very close to the pitch in places, and I think that this will help us. I have faith in the lads. I know that we’ve got ten very tough days ahead of us. We shouldn’t have let it come down to this, but there are times in sport where you have to fight, and that’s what we’re going to do.” Roberto Mancini, Italy coach

Note The play-off finals will take place on 29 March at 20:45 CET, when the winners from Path C will face one another, while Sweden or Czech Republic will take on Poland. The semi-final between Scotland and Ukraine and the subsequent Path A final has been postponed to a date yet to be decided.