Who’s in? Who’s out? European World Cup qualification enters the final stretch

With one day remaining of the group stage of European World Cup qualifying, the race is hotting up for a place at Qatar 2022.

QUALIFIED: Germany, Denmark, Belgium, France, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, England, Switzerland

PLAYOFFS: Scotland, Wales, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, North Macedonia, Sweden, Portugal, Poland, Italy

That leaves one automatic qualification spot still up for grabs for group winners, along with two playoff places for the group runners-up.

UEFA World Cup playoff system explained
World Cup 2022 qualifying: How it works around the world

Here’s the state of play across all 10 groups.

GROUP A

A stunning turnaround in Lisbon as Portugal threw away an early lead and a direct place at the World Cup finals.

Renato Sanches netted on two minutes, only for Dusan Tadic to equalise just after the half hour. And the real drama came in the 90th minute, as Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the goal to win the group.

Portugal are guaranteed to be seeded in the playoff draw.

GROUP B

Spain had a worrying time against Sweden, needing a point to advance to the finals, before Alvaro Morata calmed the nerves with what proved to be an 86th-minute winner.

Spain go direct the the World Cup finals, while Sweden enter the playoffs.

Sweden should have enough points to be seeded in the playoff draw, but they must wait for confirmation.

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GROUP C

Switzerland scored three second-half goals at home Bulgaria to get the 3-0 win they needed to put pressure on Italy.

The European champions couldn’t respond, held to a goalless draw away to Northern Ireland.

It means Switzerland qualify for the World Cup and, just like in qualifying for the 2018 edition, Italy must go through the playoffs. Roberto Mancini’s team will be seeded in those playoffs.

GROUP D
Nov. 16: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Ukraine, Finland vs. France

France (12 points) sealed their place at the World Cup with an 8-0 win over Kazakhstan on Saturday.

Finland (11 points) moved into second with victory over Bosnia, who are now eliminated, and must win at home to France on Nov. 16 to definitely secure the playoff place. They will be second regardless if Ukraine do not win in Bosnia.

Ukraine (9 points) now know they must win in Bosnia to make the playoffs, with Finland losing or drawing against France. If Finland lose, Ukraine go to the playoffs with any win.

If Finland draw and Ukraine win, it comes down to goal difference. If Ukraine win by one goal, goal difference would be level and it would come down to goals scored (as it stands, Finland have 10 goals and Ukraine 9). If goals scored also finishes level, Ukraine are second on head to head record.

GROUP E
Nov. 16: Czech Republic vs. Estonia, Wales vs. Belgium

Belgium (19 points) qualified for the World Cup with their 3-1 win at home to Estonia.

Wales (14 points) are second ahead of Czech Republic (11 points), and both are assured of a playoff place via the UEFA Nations League if they finish third. However, Wales need at least a point at home to Belgium to guarantee finishing second and be seeded in the playoff draw. They will also finish second with a defeat if Czech Republic fail to beat Estonia, but would be unseeded in the playoffs.

For Czech Republic to finish second, they have to win at home to Estonia, and need Wales to lose, meaning the two teams will finish level on points. The Czechs (+3) must then finish with better goal difference than Wales (+5). If goal difference finishes level, second place would be decided on group goals scored. Czech Republic need to win by at least five goals to have any chance of being seeded in the playoffs.

If records finish identical, Wales win the head to head. This can only happen if Wales lose and Czech Republic win both by the same one-goal scoreline.

UEFA World Cup playoff system explained

GROUP F

Denmark qualified but missed out on finishing with a 100% record after defeat to Scotland in their last game.

That victory was crucial for Scotland, and it means they will be seeded in the playoff draw.

Austria didn’t finish inside the top two, but are guaranteed of being unseeded in the playoffs as a UEFA Nations League group winner.

GROUP G
Nov. 16: Gibraltar vs. Latvia, Montenegro vs. Turkey, Netherlands vs. Norway

Vastly superior goal difference effectively means Netherlands (20 points) will only need a point at home to Norway to qualify for the World Cup. They could only miss out with a draw if Turkey (18 points) win in Montenegro by at least 13 goals.

However, Netherlands would miss out on the playoffs and finish third in the group if they lose to Norway (18 points) and Turkey win.

Turkey are level with Norway, but hold second on goal difference (by one goal) following their 6-0 win over Gibraltar. Turkey know that a win away to Montenegro guarantees at least a playoff place.

If Turkey (GD +10) and Norway (GD +9) both win, Netherlands are out and first and second will be decided goal difference. Turkey can only top the group if both they and Norway win. Turkey, who have scored 10 more goals than Norway, would need to win by the same score margin, or one goal fewer, to finish top on goal difference or goals scored.

A draw is definitely enough for Turkey for the playoffs if Norway lose or draw.

If Norway win in the Netherlands, they get at least a playoff, and win the group if Turkey fail to win. If Turkey win too, Norway must win by two goals more than Turkey to overtake them on goal difference. A draw is enough for the playoffs if Turkey lose.

If Turkey and Norway draw, Turkey are second on goal difference.

If Turkey and Norway both lose, it will again come down to goal difference, so Norway would need Turkey to lose by a two-goal greater margin.

Turkey and Norway won’t finish with identical records as Norway would need to win 12-10, even if Turkey only won 1-0.

GROUP H

Croatia got the win they needed against Russia in split to climb above their visitors and top the group.

Fedor Kudryashov scored an own goal in the 81st minute to give Croatia and 1-0 win.

Russia will have to go through the playoffs, where they will be seeded.

GROUP I

England cruised to the World Cup on the final day, winning 10-0 away to San Marino.

But it wasn’t such good news for Poland, who had already qualified for the playoffs but lost their final match 2-1 at home to Hungary. That result means they have to wait for results on Tuesday to find out if they will be seeded or not, but their hopes are hanging in the balance.

GROUP J

Germany had already secured their place in October, leaving the playoff place up for grabs this month.

North Macedonia were in danger of throwing it away, drawing 1-1 at home to Iceland, before two goals from Eljif Elmas gave them victory and a place in the playoffs.

However, North Macedonia will be unseeded in the playoff draw so face an away semifinal.

HOW THE PLAYOFFS WORK

The 10 runners-up from the groups are joined by the best two UEFA Nations League group winners not to have finished in the top two of their qualifying group.

We now know that Austria and whoever misses out on the top two from Group E between Czech Republic and Wales will qualify via the Nations League.

The playoffs, to be played in March 2022, will be seeded by qualifying points, with the two UEFA Nations League teams unseeded. The draw takes place on Friday, Nov. 26.

Seeded teams will be drawn at home against unseeded teams, to play one-legged semifinals.

SEEDED: Portugal, Russia, Italy, Scotland
UNSEEDED: Austria, North Macedonia
POT TBC: Czech Republic, Sweden, Wales, Poland

The finals will see the winners of SF1 play SF2, SF3 vs. SF4 and SF5 vs. SF6. There will be a draw, also on Nov. 26, to determine the home team in each final path.

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