Crunch clashes on the qualifying menu
Qualifying resumes in the AFC, Concacaf and CONMEBOL zones
Australia, Costa Rica and Uruguay are under pressure
Argentina without Messi, Australia without coach Arnold
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying continues apace on 27 and 28 January, with the next round of fixtures taking place across three confederations as nations jostle for a berth at the finals.
A total of 14 qualifying matches will be played, but who will edge ahead in the AFC, Concacaf and CONMEBOL zones and and who will lose ground?
AFC: Battle for second place
|United Arab Emirates||6||6||-1|
IR Iran, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia may not yet be mathematically certain of qualification for Qatar 2022, but it would be a huge surprise if they were to stumble in the home straight. The outlook is rather different for Japan and Australia, who are vying for second place in Group 2 and the accompanying automatic berth at the tournament. The two clash in a decisive meeting on 24 March.
Match in focus: Australia-Vietnam
The Socceroos have participated at each of the last four World Cups, but a fifth consecutive appearance is by no means certain. With Saudi Arabia the Group 2 leaders, only victories will do for Australia. Following some disappointing results last year, they will be without coach Graham Arnold when they meet Vietnam on 27 January due to a positive COVID-19 result. Is this a chance for Japan to consolidate the runners-up spot?
27 January Lebanon-Korea Republic IR Iran-Iraq Japan-China PR United Arab Emirates-Syria Saudi Arabia-Oman
CONMEBOL: Crunch time
Matchday 15 of 18 is just around the corner in South America. After Brazil and Argentina reserved their spots at Qatar 2022 in November 2021, and with Ecuador well placed to follow suit on 23 points, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia are fighting for the last automatic qualifying berth and the play-off spot against the fifth-placed side from the AFC zone.
Match in focus: Chile-Argentina
Argentina may have already qualified for the finals, but this still promises to be a nerve-jangling meeting for the fans when the pair lock horns on 28 January in Calama. While La Albiceleste are playing for pride, La Roja are under pressure to stay within touching distance of Peru and Colombia, who are both one point ahead in the standings on 17. The latter two face each other on the same day, so victory for Chile could mean they climb above one or both teams in the table. In addition to qualification, honour is also at stake, so the absence of Argentina captain Lionel Messi due to a COVID-19 infection could present Chile with a real chance of victory.
27 January Ecuador-Brazil Paraguay-Uruguay 28 January Colombia-Peru Venezuela-Bolivia
Concacaf: In the final straight
The penultimate set of fixtures is imminent in the North, Central America and Caribbean zone, as teams jockey for one of three automatic qualification berths. Mathematically at least, the final eight sides still have all to play for, but group leaders Canada (16 points) are best placed to progress, even if USA (15), Mexico and Panama (both on 14) are hot on their heels. The remaining teams harbour hopes of securing the intercontinental play-off spot, which would set up a match against the winner of OFC qualifying in Qatar in June.
Match in focus: Costa Rica-Panama
Fifth meets fourth on 28 January in San Jose. Costa Rica and Panama shared the spoils when they last played in September 2021, but neither can afford to drop points here with third place in their crosshairs. Los Ticos have featured at five World Cups to date, but they are currently fifth in the table with just nine points. Los Canaleros, meanwhile, made their debut at the global showpiece at Russia 2018, and go into the match full of confidence after beating USA in October. Can Panama harness that momentum and earn a fourth victory in what will be their 18th World Cup qualifying game against Costa Rica?
27 January Jamaica-Mexico USA-El Salvador Honduras-Canada Costa-Rica-Panama
From Sunday onwards there are another 19 matches spread across these three confederations. The clash between Canada and USA on 30 January is the headline fixture in the Concacaf zone, while Japan take on group leaders Saudi Arabia on 1 February.