Two go through but uncertainty reigns in Europe
Germany and Denmark seal their places at Qatar 2022
Other groups still too close to call
Portugal, Spain, Italy and Croatia far from assured of direct qualification
Germany and Denmark this week became the first two European sides to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
While a number of other teams have taken big steps towards joining them, the picture in the rest of the groups remains unclear after the latest two matchdays. All will be decided in the final two rounds of games in November, with some of the continent’s big names by no means certain of topping their groups and booking direct tickets to the world finals. Group A
Serbia moved to the top of the section thanks to wins over Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and will fight it out with Portugal for first place in November. The Balkan side hold a one-point lead but have played one game more. The two teams meet in Portugal on the final matchday, when Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt be intent on adding to his already huge international goal tally, having helped himself to his tenth hat trick for Portugal against Luxembourg on Tuesday.
With rivals Spain otherwise engaged in the UEFA Nations League, Sweden took full advantage to move to the top of the group. Boosted by the in-form Alexander Isak, the Scandinavians beat Greece and Kosovo and now lead La Roja by two points with two rounds of games to go, the final one of which will see them meet on Spanish soil.
Like Spain, Italy were on Nations League duty, which gave Switzerland the opportunity to pull level with them at the top of the section, one the Swiss took by beating Northern Ireland and Lithuania comfortably. The two leaders are on 14 points and cannot be caught. First place may well be decided when they face off in Rome on the next matchday.
Ukraine had the chance to close up on group leaders France, who were busy claiming the Nations League title. But after winning 2-1 in Finland on Saturday, the Ukrainians were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday. The result leaves them on nine points, three behind the world champions, with the Bosnians a further two points back. In between lie the Finns on eight, a 2-0 win in Kazakhstan helping them to recover from that home loss to Ukraine.
Despite their UEFA Nations League involvement, Belgium stay top on 16 points, helped by Friday’s 2-2 draw between their closest challengers, Czech Republic and Wales. The pair won their next games, respectively beating Belarus and Estonia to leave themselves five points behind the Red Devils. The Welsh have a game in hand on the Czechs but face Belgium at home in their final match.
Runaway leaders Denmark made sure of their world finals place with a 1-0 defeat of Austria on Tuesday, their eighth win out of eight in a campaign in which they have scored 27 goals and conceded none. The runners-up spot is now between Scotland on 17 points and Israel on 13. The two met on Saturday, with the Scots prevailing 3-2, a result they followed up by recording a narrow 1-0 win away to Faroe Islands.
Three teams are in contention for first place ahead of the final two matchdays. Netherlands lead the way with 19 points after wins over Latvia and Gibraltar, but Norway and Turkey are still in the hunt. The two drew 1-1 in Istanbul last Friday, with the Norwegians then beating Montenegro 2-0 at home on Monday to move on to 17 points and the Turks winning 2-1 in Latvia to take their tally to 15.
Russia and Croatia went into the double header as joint leaders, but the Russians came out of it better, claiming all six points on offer, while the Croatians dropped two points in a 2-2 draw with Slovakia on Monday. The frontrunners meet on the final matchday in Split, when their fate will be decided.
Three teams are still in with a chance of topping the section. England’s 1-1 draw at home to Hungary has given fresh hope to Poland and Albania, who respectively lie three and five points behind Gareth Southgate’s side. The two chasing sides met on Tuesday, with Poland edging it thanks a late Karol Swiderski goal. Elsewhere in the group, Andorra won 3-0 in San Marino, their biggest ever victory.
North Macedonia sprang a major surprise in beating Germany in March, but there was to be no such upset in the return in Skopje, with second-half goals from Kai Havertz, Timo Werner (2) and Jamal Musiala ensuring a place in Qatar for the four-time world champions. Romania, North Macedonia, Armenia and Iceland are all in with a chance of claiming second spot. The final two matchdays feature several games between the four.
58 - The number of hat tricks that Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored in his career after his latest treble against Luxembourg on Tuesday. Ten of them have come in the Portugal jersey.
5 - The number of matches that Germany’s new coach Hansi Flick has presided over, all of which he has won, a joint national record he shares with his predecessor Joachim Low.
15 - The number of goals in which the Netherlands’ Memphis Depay has been involved in the European qualifiers for Qatar 2022 (nine goals and six assists), six more than any other player.
4 - The number of consecutive Qatar 2022 qualifying matches in which Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes has now scored.
“We’ve created a team with an incredibly healthy mindset. We just want to keep on improving all the time. We share the best of ourselves, and as well as having quality we can go the distance too. We’ve made it and now we want more.” Denmark captain and defender Simon Kjaer reacts to his side’s qualification