Karembeu, Matthaus, Mendes and Zabaleta discuss European and intercontinental play-off draws
The draw for the European play-offs for Qatar 2022 takes place today
It will precede the draw for the intercontinental play-offs
We hear from Draw Assistants Christian Karembeu, Lothar Matthaus, Tiago Mendes and Pablo Zabaleta
The draw for the European play-offs for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, which will begin today at 17:00 CET, will be broadcast live on FIFA TV. It will be followed by the draw for the intercontinental play-offs, which will feature one nation apiece from the AFC, Concacaf, CONMEBOL and OFC zones.
FIFA Director of Competitions Manolo Zubiria will conduct the draws, which will be presented by Samantha Johnson, who made a 20-person list of Britain’s Most Influential People Under 40, and the esteemed Italian/Australian Adriano del Monte, who has covered the last three FIFA World Cups in 2010, 2014 & 2018. Twelve nations will battle for three tickets in the European play-offs. The hopefuls will be split into three four-team paths, with the winners of each qualifying for Qatar 2022. The 12 coaches will watch the draw via Zoom and give their reaction to Samantha and Adriano thereafter.
Matthaus, Mendes want Cristiano in Qatar
Another man with his eyes on it will be Lothar Matthaus. Shortly after he ended his 20-year, Italy 1990-winning, record-laden international career, he watched Germany successfully navigate the European play-offs for Korea/Japan 2002 and go on to reach the World Cup Final. “The last two European champions, Italy and Portugal, surely have big potential to go all the way to the final – similar to Germany in 2002,” he told FIFA. “A personality like Cristiano Ronaldo just has to be part of the FIFA World Cup. The same applies to Italy. I had a fantastic time at Inter, hence a part of my heart beats for the Azzurri.” Tiago Mendes, who, alongside Ronaldo, helped Portugal reach the UEFA EURO 2004 final and the Germany 2006 semi-finals, is also desperate to see his former team-mate in Qatar. “The World Cup would be the cherry on the top of the cake, like we say in Portugal, but what Cristiano is doing in football is unbelievable and he will forever be remembered in this sport,” he said. “Without a doubt, we have a great group of players that make us, Portuguese, dream of big trophies.”
Asked which of the unseeded teams he would prefer to avoid, Mendes named one against whom Portugal have won one, drawn one and lost two from four meetings. “We know that in football anything can happen,” he said. “But if I had to pick one I’d say Ukraine because they also have a lot of good players, they are very compact, and we suffered against them and couldn’t beat them in our two most recent games.” Matthaus would be delighted to see some other Pot 2 teams go to Qatar. “As a former Bayern player, I would be very happy to see the current The Best FIFA Men’s Player Robert Lewandowski at the World Cup with Poland,” he said. “The same applies to David Alaba and my friends in Austria. And I would be very happy for all my Turkish friends and their German coach Stefan Kuntz if this football-crazy country qualifies for the World Cup for a third time.”
Can France emulate Brazil of '62?
For Christian Karembeu, the European play-offs for Brazil 2014 stand out. Firstly, because his country were in them; secondly, because arguably the most trilling play-off in World Cup qualifying history unfolded in Solna, where a brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic brace was eclipsed by a stunning Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick. “The images went around the world,” recalled the France 1998 winner. “Two of the best players in the world at the time; two big personalities who know how to be present in the big games, the important moments. Cristiano was just a little too strong and too resilient for Zlatan.”
France, like Portugal, had to survive a stern test to reach Brazil. Two-nil down from their first leg in Ukraine, two goals from Mamadou Sakho – it was the only international he ever scored in – inspired the 3-0 win Les Bleus needed. “Another defender did that… Lilian [Thuram]!,” said Karembeu. “We were 1-0 down in the 1998 World Cup semi-final against Croatia when Lilian found the inspiration to score twice to put us through to the final. He never scored before – or after – in the other 141 matches he played for France!
“And don’t forget that Karim Benzema scored the other goal against Ukraine. I expect him to be fully fit and ready for next year’s final tournament.” Many feel Benzema’s return has enhanced the team that won Russia 2018, but can France become the first team to win back-to-back World Cup crowns since Brazil in 1962? “The quality has improved so much that nowadays there are so many teams who can win big tournaments,” said Karembeu. “Who expected Denmark, who replaced Yugoslavia, to win EURO 1992 or Greece to do the same in 2004? Who expected South Korea to reach the semi-finals in the 2002 World Cup, only losing to Germany by the smallest or margins in the semi-finals as well? “This is an exciting time and it means that it has become harder for the traditionally big teams from Europe or South America to win a World Cup, let along retain the title. Having said that, France have the qualities, scoring power and talent to retain the trophy in Qatar next year.”
Continents colliding and a Messi dream
The two intercontinental play-offs will be single-leg ties and will take place on 13 and 14 June 2022. Pablo Zabaleta vaguely remembers Argentina having to escape from one and reach USA 1994. “I was only eight years old and I remember very little, but of course there was a lot of tension,” he said. “I always expected Argentina to qualify for the World Cup, but Australia were tough opponents and made it very difficult for Argentina. The return of Maradona to the national team for those games was key.” Fortunately for the former right-back, who was a World Cup runner-up in 2014, Argentina have already qualified for the 2022 finals along with Brazil. Ecuador are on the cusp on joining them, but only three points separate Colombia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia in the fight for the fourth automatic ticket to Qatar and the intercontinental play-off berth. “CONMEBOL qualifying is actually the most competitive [zone] as it stands,” said Zabaleta. “With four rounds to go, Ecuador are in a solid position in third and, in my opinion, Colombia will go through automatically as well. I think Uruguay might grab the intercontinental play-off place.” Uruguay, along with Italy, are the only former winners who haven’t qualified for the 22nd World Cup. Lionel Messi has never got his hands on the hallowed Trophy, but after conquering his first title with Argentina, the Copa America in Brazil in July, could he capstone his mind-blowing career at Lusail Iconic Stadium on 18 December 2022? “Qatar 2022 could be Messi’s last World Cup and I can’t wait to see his magic for Argentina,” said Zabaleta. “It’s the dream of all Argentinians to see Messi lift the World Cup Trophy.”