Sunday 12 June 2022, 15:00

The intercontinental play-offs in stats

  • Australia-Peru and Costa Rica-New Zealand will determine two Qatar 2022 places

  • The intercontinental play-offs were launched in Sweden 1958 qualifying

  • We bring you some statistics from over the years


The cumulative attendance of the IR Iran-Australia showdown in 1997 was a staggering 213,000. 128,000 watched a 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. 85,000 were then inside Melbourne Cricket Ground for the return seven days later. The vast majority of them were left devastated. Team Melli, 2-0 down with 15 minutes remaining, scored through Karim Bagheri and Khodadad Azizi to sneak through on away goals. Bagheri’s goal, which he scored while sliding, was astonishingly his 19th in 14 appearances in France 1998 qualifying – a record for any confederation during one preliminary campaign.

Karim Bagheri celebrates IR Iran's qualification for France 1998


UEFA representatives have the best record for getting through intercontinental play-off ties (86% – 6 wins, 1 loss). They are followed by CONMEBOL (70% – 7 wins, 3 losses), Concacaf (50% – 3 wins, 3 losses), AFC (33% – 2 wins, 4 losses), OFC (30% – 3 wins, 7 losses) and CAF (0% – 0 wins, 1 loss).


Thirty-six clean sheets have been kept over the 42 intercontinental play-off games. Eight matches have ended 0-0, with the Germany 2006 play-offs the last exempt of a goalless draw.


Hungary thrashed Bolivia by seven goals to reach Argentina 1978 – the biggest margin of victory in an intercontinental play-off. The hosts netted five goals in 27 first-half minutes en route to a 6-0 victory in Budapest, before winning 3-2 in La Paz. Two teams have registered six-goal aggregate victories, with Yugoslavia beating Korea Republic 8-2 to reach Chile 1962 and Mexico downing New Zealand 9-3 to make it to Brazil 2014.


Australia have participated in a record six previous intercontinental play-offs. They are followed by New Zealand, Uruguay (three apiece), Bahrain, IR Iran and Israel (two apiece).


Oribe Peralta has scored an unparalleled five goals in the intercontinental play-offs. The hero of Mexico’s stunning upset of Brazil in the Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 final bagged a brace in a 5-1 win over New Zealand at the Azteca in Mexico City in 2013, before hitting a 19-minute hat-trick in the second leg at ‘The Cake Tin’ in Wellington. The only other scorer of a treble in the intercontinental play-offs is defensive midfielder Mile Jedinak, whose heroics against Honduras sent Australia to Russia 2018. Milan Galic, who netted thrice Yugoslavia over two legs against Korea Republic in 1961, is the only other player to have more than two goals in the intercontinental play-offs.


The best finish a nation has achieved at the World Cup having qualified through the intercontinental play-offs in fourth. Yugoslavia did it at Chile 1962, eliminating West Germany en route to the semi-finals. A Diego Forlan-inspired Uruguay then repeated the feat at South Africa 2010.


Two intercontinental play-off ties have been settled by penalties – and both of them were won by Australia. A Mark Schwarzer fairy tale headlined the first. First-choice goalkeeper Mark Bosnich had declined a call-up for the clash with Canada – an effective semi-final for the right to face Argentina for a USA 1994 place – and when Robert Zabica was sent off 17 minutes into the first leg, the 20-year-old was thrown in at the deep end on his international debut. After performing heroically over 253 minutes in Edmonton and Sydney, Schwarzer saved two spot-kicks in the shootout to send the Socceroos through, though they were consequently edged 2-1 by an Albiceleste side that had recently set a new world record undefeated run. Twelve years later, the same man repelled two penalties in the shootout again as Australia upset two-time World Cup winners Uruguay to reach their second global finals.


Just two teams have lost the first leg of a play-off an reached the World Cup – and on both occasions the fixtures involved the same nations. Uruguay lost 1-0 in Melbourne in 2001, but Alvaro Recoba and Dario Silva inspired a 3-0 victory in the return leg in Montevideo. Australia got their revenge four years later. Following a 1-0 loss at the Centenario, Mark Bresciano got the only goal in Sydney before John Aloisi scored the winning penalty in the shootout.